There are nine unbeaten teams in college football's top 20 and one, South Carolina, could almost qualify as the answer to the question: what's wrong with this picture?
There are the usual powerhouses: Texas, Oklahoma, Washington, Brigham Young, Louisiana State. Southern Methodist and Boston College have revived impressively in recent years. No. 19 Kentucky has become respectable under Coach Jerry Claiborne. All have name players and/or coaches.
But most fans would come up empty when pressed to name one member of the Gamecocks, whose No. 11 ranking this week is the highest in school history.
"We don't have dominant players," second-year Coach Joe Morrison said in a recent telephone interview. "We have a lot of good, dedicated young men who work very hard in a team concept."
It's a good thing, for the Gamecocks (5-0) also have their traditionally tough schedule. Last year's featured North Carolina, Georgia, Southern California, Notre Dame, Louisiana State, Florida State and Clemson, contributing heavily to a 5-6 record. This season, South Carolina has upset Georgia, but will play at Notre Dame Saturday and later will face Florida State and Clemson.
Team Anonymous and Schedule Ridiculous. Hardly stuff of which heavyweights are made.
From 1892 to 1983, South Carolina's combined record was 386-386-38. Only one team went undefeated, the 1907 squad going 3-0. Even when winning, the Gamecocks weren't dominant. Counting postseason games, every team since 1958 had lost at least four games.
Morrison, who turned around programs at Tennessee-Chattanooga and New Mexico, has done the same at South Carolina with a decidedly unglamorous approach. If coaches' attitudes are reflected in their teams, then South Carolina mirrors those of Morrison. His conversation is laced with such phrases as "proper attitude," "practice habits" and "consistency in our approach."
That is Morrison the coach and that was Morrison the player. Small and slow, he was a valuable member of the New York Giants for 14 years. Although primarily a pass receiver, he also played halfback, quarterback, fullback and strong safety.
Under Morrison, the Gamecocks have no player in the top 10 in any category of the NCAA's individual statistics. Yet they average 32.5 points a game, eighth-best in the nation, out of the veer offense, a once-popular alignment that now has few proponents. It is directed by a quarterback who was wanted by only two other schools and whom South Carolina recruited as a defensive back.
The school that produced a great runner in 1980 in Heisman trophy winner George Rogers now has four good ones, led by Thomas Dendy, playing well after early season injuries.
"We know we don't have the individuals to just take over like at some other schools," junior Allen Mitchell, the defensive back-turned-quarterback, said. "But it works to our advantage. If you lose one person who is a force, your offense just dwindles.
"With us, if somebody gets hurt, tired or just a little banged up, then we know somebody can take over. You can feel it through the team."
Mitchell conceded that the Gamecocks had looked shaky early in the season, beating The Citadel by only 31-24 and making "a mess of mistakes" in beating Duke, 21-0. "We wondered if we could put it together," he said.
They did three weeks ago against Georgia, then ranked 12th. When Mitchell himself got a "little banged up," injuring an elbow in the second half, on came redshirt junior Mike Hold. He directed the team on a 78-yard drive for the winning points in the fourth quarter, setting up his one-yard touchdown run with a 62-yard completion to the six. South Carolina's 17-10 victory was its first over Georgia in five years.
"We've got something like 30 players from Georgia on our roster," Morrison said. "Believe me, no one needed a push for that game."
Mitchell said, "We had some guys who had never beaten Georgia, and they didn't want to leave here with that on their conscience."
In a 45-21 victory over Pitt last week, Hold again came in for Mitchell, who was ineffective despite passing for a touchdown. Hold threw for three scores, prompting Pitt Coach Foge Fazio to comment, "They have probably one of the best, if not the best, combinations of quarterbacks in college football." Mitchell has thrown for 559 yards and five touchdowns and Hold has passed for 298 and three scores.
After playing their first five games at home, the Gamecocks are on the road for four of the final six. Morrison says he expects no letdown and Mitchell, mindful of his coach's sometimes intimidating presence, agreed.
"Before we played Kansas State (Oct. 6), we were just going through the motions in practice," Mitchell said. "Coach is tough, but he doesn't have a whole lot to say. He just stood under one of the goal posts, smoking a cigarette and watching us without saying a word.
"Finally, he took his cigarette and stamped it on the ground. He walked towards us and gathered the offense together. We knew he was furious. He didn't say but four or five words, but from then on, it was like two different teams out there."
South Carolina won, 49-17.