Carolina’s Williams-Brice Stadium quietly becoming the SEC’s toughest venue

Without looking, which SEC football program has the longest home winning streak?

If you guessed Alabama or LSU, try again.

Here’s a pregame clue:

Under a Carolina sky I stand, under the palmettos and beneath the crescent moon. I am a structure forged from concrete and time. As strong as our pride, as enduring as our passion, tradition originates from my core. History echoes through my walls. For seven decades, I’ve given rise to legends and today, I await the next one. I am not a desert, but a Sandstorm builds within me. I am a sea of garnet and black with a sound that doesn’t just pierce the air, it penetrates your soul. I am the place where every odyssey starts with 2001. Where your wakeup call is our battle cry. Trespassers beware, to enter, is to sacrifice. It is Saturday in South Carolina …

Welcome to Williams-Brice.

South Carolina’s won 15 straight games at home, second nationally behind 24 from Northern Illinois.

The Gamecocks haven’t lost at home in two years, a list of victims that includes 2011 ACC champion Clemson and a 35-7 beating of fifth-ranked Georgia in 2012 in front of a record crowd of 85,199. I took a ton a flack in the preseason for putting the Gamecocks’ home digs No. 2 overall in the SEC’s five toughest venues list, but South Carolina’s one victory shy of setting a school-record Saturday night against Florida for most consecutive home victories.

Ask SEC juggernaut Alabama how difficult it has become to win in the Cockpit. Nick Saban’s top-ranked Crimson Tide saw their 19-game winning streak end in 2010 before South Carolina’s current dominance at home began. That nationally-televised, College GameDay setting was the Gamecocks’ arrival moment under Steve Spurrier and since, they’ve been nearly unbeatable on their own turf.

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So what is it that makes the concrete monstrosity on Bluff Road so intimidating? Confidence, productivity and¬†Sandstorm. Senior quarterback Connor Shaw’s been brilliant in “big-game garnet” with a sparkling 14-0 career record at home that began with a 311-yard, four-touchdown outing against Kentucky on Oct. 8, 2011 just before Stephen Garcia’s dismissal.

This season, the Gamecocks have given opponents an early dose of towel-waving theatrics with 79 first-half points in four homes games. Big plays in the first quarter have become the norm, usually a long touchdown pass once Mike Davis gets it going on the ground. South Carolina’s only trailed twice (7-0 to Miss. St. and 3-0 to UAB) in its last 11 games at Williams-Brice.

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With the introduction of the $6.5 million “Beast Board” in 2012, the gameday experience in Columbia, S.C., became one of college football’s most underrated. Recent renovations to the adjacent farmer’s market has transformed the area surrounding the stadium from bland to top-notch, an ideal spot for tailgating, pre-game festivities and the Gamecock Walk.

Once inside, especially at night, the capacity crowd’s a rabid bunch that’s waited several decades for South Carolina to be a Top 25 mainstay and consistent SEC East threat. Saturday’s game against Florida is the Gamecocks’ fifth straight home sellout and could reach new highs for sound at kickoff if Auburn beats Georgia earlier in the afternoon.

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Depending on how seasons shake out at Mizzou and Auburn, the Gamecocks could be playing for a BCS at-large berth on Senior Night against No. 8 Clemson on Nov. 30. South Carolina’s won four straight in the rivalry series — three coming against a ranked Tigers squad — and Shaw would have a chance to exit the program with the school’s wins record for a quarterback.

Photo Credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

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