Same song, a little bit louder, a little bit worse. The refrain should be familiar to South Carolina football fans by now. All together, get excited about a bowl game, believe your team will finally win one, then watch it fall flat on its collective face.
This Chick-fil-A Bowl went to Florida State and the final scoreboard showed a 26-17 count. Do not be fooled. This could have been a lot worse. Florida State thoroughly whipped South Carolina, just as Iowa did two bowls ago and Connecticut did one bowl season ago.
"It's not a mystery," Steve Spurrier said by way of explaining why South Carolina has dropped three consecutive bowl games. "We lose our focus, I guess."
It was the same focus South Carolina could not find in a 31-14 loss to Iowa in the Outback Bowl two seasons ago or in the 20-7 loss to Connecticut a season ago in the Papajohns.com Bowl.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Herald
By my count, that means South Carolina has been outscored 77-38 in three bowl games. Iowa probably was a better team. Connecticut was not, yet simply kicked "our butts," according to Spurrier.
This one might hurt even more for that reason. South Carolina was a better team than Florida State. You cannot talk about how bad the Atlantic Coast Conference performed this season, then turn around and say Florida State was a great team. It was not. It was the second-best team in a bad conference.
South Carolina was the Eastern Division champion in the mighty Southeastern Conference. That alone made South Carolina a slight favorite over Florida State. Yet, for whatever reason, Florida State looked like the better team on this night.
"They played a lot better than we did," Spurrier said. "They were the better coached team tonight than we were, simple as that, a lot better coached."
When your team lacks focus and is out-coached, there is no room for excuses. So, do not begin to play the Marcus Lattimore injury card. The star running back was knocked out of the game early in the first quarter, never to return.
It did not matter. Kenny Miles (70 yards) and Brian Maddox (53 yards) performed admirably in his absence. Besides, Florida State lost its star player, quarterback Christian Ponder, near the end of the first half and did not miss a beat with EJ Manuel as his replacement.
It makes much more sense to simply find the reasons South Carolina lost. That is easy. It turned the ball over five times, and its special teams were abysmal.
South Carolina fumbled and threw three interceptions on its first five possessions. It was a continuing trend from the previous two bowl games. With another lost fumble in the third quarter, South Carolina now has 12 turnovers in the three bowls.
The biggest culprit in the turnover party has been quarterback Stephen Garcia. Almost as inexplicable as South Carolina's sorry bowl showings are the continued sub-par performances by Garcia in the postseason.
During the three bowl games, Garcia has completed 44 of 90 passes with seven interceptions and no touchdowns. When asked about Garcia's struggles, Spurrier deferred to his quarterback. But Garcia did not have much of an explanation, either.
Perhaps the only plausible explanation would be that Garcia was asked to do much more against Florida State than at any point during the season. Once Lattimore departed, South Carolina stopped throwing screen passes. The Gamecocks also threw very few of the quick-release passes that took much of the decision-making out of Garcia's hands during the regular season.
Instead, it appeared that much of the game's outcome was placed on Garcia's shoulders. Part of what contributed to South Carolina's success this season was its ability to shift that responsibility to other players.
Then there was South Carolina's play on special teams. It has become apparent that South Carolina has neither a kick nor punt returner and that showed Friday. Ace Sanders returned two punts for 4 yards, and Bryce Sherman brought back two kickoffs for 38 yards.
It became a glaring weakness when seen in contrast to Florida State punt returner Greg Reid. He returned two punts for 53 yards, including a back-breaking 28-yarder late in the third quarter. That led to a Florida State field goal and a 19-10 lead South Carolina could not overcome.
What was abundantly clear over the course of the evening is that Florida State had several players, including Reid and Manuel, who were capable of taking the ball to the end zone every time they touched the ball. South Carolina does not have such a player on its roster.
It might be the one element that kept South Carolina from being a great team this season. Instead, the Gamecocks were a good team, one that won nine games but lost five. It was a team that won a weak SEC Eastern Division, yet once again could not finish the season on a high note with a bowl win.
If that sounds familiar, it should. It really was the same old song for South Carolina. Only that sad song was a little bit louder and a little bit worse in this bowl game.