Not even the most optimistic South Carolina fan had the Gamecocks not only reaching a bowl game this season, but also knocking off the likes of Florida and Auburn.

But Shane Beamer’s program did it, and did it in muscular SEC fashion by proudly running 2 plays for large stretches of the 2nd half to out-physical Auburn in a “big boy” conference tilt.

As Beamer pointed out: For perspective, the program won 2 games last season. What’s more, the Gamecocks haven’t been to a bowl game since the Belk Bowl after the 2018 season, and that was a forgettable affair as a shutout loss to Virginia. The last successful bowl experience was the 2017 Outback Bowl win over Michigan.

Realistic observers in the summer could have penciled in 4 wins, and for most people that meant all of the non-conference games except Clemson, plus Vanderbilt. Now Clemson this week is remarkably winnable even though the Tigers looked like the Tigers of old in a big win over Wake Forest on Saturday.

What Beamer has successfully done, with these Auburn and Florida wins in particular, is build a foundation and culture and completely shift the trajectory of the program from the shape it was in last year with an interim coach, NFL departures and transfer portal exits. The Auburn win was especially sweet because Mike Bobo was the most high profile of the staff departures Beamer had to replace to complete his initial staff.

Bobo’s replacement, Marcus Satterfield, has been the subject of much of the fan criticism this season because the offense has struggled. But he also deserves credit for shepherding 3 quarterbacks along, and helping 3rd-string QB Jason Brown become a reliable starter during the 2nd half of the season. They both stuck it out and have reaped the rewards. Brown will never be mentioned among the top-shelf quarterbacks in the SEC, but Satterfield has found a way to put Brown in position where he is most comfortable and successful.

The culture and foundation was never more evident than when the Gamecocks didn’t panic down 14-0, and flipped control in their favor for the rest of the game. It came down to players’ belief, even in Brown — who plenty are wondering now why he wasn’t the starter coming out of fall camp — to win against all odds.

It’s also not as if the Gamecocks are doing it with smoke and mirrors. They have an opportunistic and, at times, strong defense. They have a No. 1 wide receiver in Josh Vann, and plenty of versatile talent at running back. What’s more, the decisive play against Auburn was a special teams play, a Beamer special if ever there was one.

It’s a treat for the fan base, which again has proven to be among the most loyal around, even during the low points of 2-win seasons. The fans put their faith in Beamer, and they continue to promote that he was the right man for the job primarily because he wants to be there and knows the heartbeat of the program and the city.

Much will be made this week about Clemson’s 6-game winning streak in the series. But to some, it feels longer than that, probably because the only relatively close game in that stretch was the 2015 game, which was 37-32 (but also in Columbia, as this week’s will be).

The Gamecocks this time are on more solid footing than the 2015 team, which was led by interim coach Shawn Elliott, who took over following Steve Spurrier’s resignation.

With the bowl berth already clinched, the Gamecocks have nothing to lose, especially in a rivalry game that was missed last year.