Big Thursday

August 29th 2013 will mark the 56th meeting between the South Carolina Gamecocks and the Tar Heels of North Carolina. This will be the first time since 2007 that the two teams have met on the gridiron. South Carolina won the last meeting in Chapel Hill by a score of 21-15. South Carolina went into the game ranked #7 in the country and nearly gave away an 18 point halftime lead. The Gamecocks were lead by Chris Smelley and Cory Boyd. Smelley went 17 of 26 for 172 yards and threw for a career high 3 TD’s in the first half, while Boyd lead the ground attack with 20 carries for 95 yards.

This game, as we all have recently learned will kick off the 2013 season on a Thursday evening. Since arriving in 2005, Coach Spurrier is 6-0 at South Carolina in opening Thursday night games. Coach Spurrier has also never lost to North Carolina, giving him a 4-0 record against the Heels. Prior to the 2007, his previous three wins came with the Duke Blue Devils (1987-1989). The Gamecocks have an impressive 8-2 record in Thursday night games under Coach Spurrier and have won four straight Thursday night contests, with the last loss coming from a Vanderbilt team on September 4th 2008 17-24. OUCH! Even with all the success on Thursday night games, the Tar Heels will come in with an all time record of 34-17-4 over the Gamecocks. The Gamecocks have won four out of the last five against the Heels, dating back to 1988. With only two losses at home in the past three seasons, I suspect “The Brice” will be too much for the Heels.

As South Carolina fans we all know that there used to be a more meaningful Thursday night football contest. That’s right, the annual game between South Carolina and that school from the upstate that was dubbed “Big Thursday”. The very first meeting between the two clubs in 1896 was played in Columbia, on a Thursday morning in conjunction with the South Carolina State Fair. The Gamecocks came away with a 12-6 victory. The two teams continued to play on Thursdays in Columbia through 1959 (63 years). The Gamecocks and Tigers did not meet between 1903 and 1908 due to multiple fights and riots during the week of the 1902 contest. The Gamecocks also won that meeting 12-6. Since the 1960 season, the programs have alternated between both teams home stadiums every year for the season finale showdown.
Though Clemson may lead the all time series by 24 games, there have been 40 sum odd games decided by a TD or less. So as much as Clemson fans hate to admit it, the rivalry is much closer than the overall record makes it out to be.

It’s hard for me to understand why college football programs would not want to participate in the annual Thursday night opener on ESPN. I can understand that attendance may not be what it would normally be on a given Saturday, but being on the National stage would be enough for me. People are anxious to watch college football after going months without it. Last season’s Thursday night opening matchup on ESPN between South Carolina and Vanderbilt gave the network its most watched Thursday night opener since 1994. More than 4.1 million viewers tuned in to watch the Gamecocks and Commodores. Vanderbilt also filled their stadium with 38,393 fans to witness the game in person, Kind of low right? Well, not for a team who averages only 32,873 in attendance per game. Your typical Thursday may be different, but on a night where college football returns people will show up to cheer on their team.

Fans are not the only ones watching these opening games on Thursdays. Recruits are viewing the game as well. To be on a National stage and the only relevant game on at this time, what better place to showcase your program for the big time recruits that may be considering your program? I believe this may benefit South Carolina more than any other program in the country right now, with seven out of nine openers being played on Thursday under Coach Spurrier. The coaches understand the importance of national exposure from a recruiting stand point better than anyone. Exposure is just as important as winning. We all know these two go hand in hand.

The only downfall to me when it comes to playing on Thursday nights is, of course having to work the next day. After all we are the GREATEST FANS IN THE COUNTRY.

Fun Fact: Before Steve Spurrier arrived in Columbia in 2005 the Gamecocks were 9 games below .500 as far as the all time football record. Heading into his 9th season a Head Coach, the overall record is 566-544-44. Twenty-two games over the .500 mark.

Ryan Hood