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Deebo Samuel

South Carolina's Deebo Samuel high-fives fans after the Akron game in Columbia on Saturday. The game will be Samuel's final one as a Gamecock as he has decided to skip the Belk Bowl and prepare for the NFL Draft. 

COLUMBIA -- Will Muschamp watched parts of Saturday’s SEC Title game in Atlanta, a place he and the Gamecocks want to be at the end of every season.

He watched as two teams with a combined one loss duked it out and his former coach, Nick Saban, came back to beat his former teammate and coworker Kirby Smart.

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While watching, it was a reminder for Muschamp that while he and the Gamecocks have made progress, there’s still a ways to go before reaching that stage.

“We’re not close at 7-5,” Muschamp said. “And you are what you’re record is.”

South Carolina finished its regular season with seven wins and the program’s 14th winning season since 2000.

After seeing the program bottom out in 2015 with a 3-9 season and a loss to The Citadel, the Gamecocks have responded with three straight seasons going to a bowl game, and Muschamp became the winningest coach in his first three seasons in Columbia with 22 wins.

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While there’s still a long way to go, Muschamp can still look back and realize that they’ve made some strides since he took over.

“We’re in a much better place, absolutely,” he said. “I said before the season started, we have a much better football team entering year three. Whether or not we had a better record than a year ago, we have a better football team.”

Muschamp came in after that 3-9 year and immediately adopted the mantra of “Beat the east and win the state.” Other sayings and slogans have come and gone but that one stuck, and it’s plastered on almost any available space around the facility.

Through three years, though, the Gamecocks haven’t been able to consistently meet those goals. They’re 10-8 against the East — 3-3 this season — and haven’t beaten Clemson under Muschamp.

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It can be hard to judge overall success and progress of a program when falling short of those goals, but Muschamp said he sees strides being made in recruiting and the overall talent on the team.

In three recruiting classes so far, the last two (2017 and 2018) finished in the top 20 nationally. The 2019 class is currently ranked No. 22 and includes the team’s first five-star commitment since Jadeveon Clowney in 2011.

“Overall depth on the roster of what it’s going to take to win a championship, which I’ve done in this league multiple times and win a national championship. I’ve played for one and won another. We’ve won, as a staff, 10 national championships and close to 30 conference championships. We understand where we are and where we need to go,” Muschamp said. “We have a very good strong foundation and a bunch of really good young players in the program.”

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One of the biggest pieces Muschamp hopes expedites the progress being made and elevates the Gamecocks to contender status is the new Ken and Cyndi Long Football Operations Center.

The new building, which is set to open in late December or early January, will house all of the team’s day-to-day operations, with Muschamp saying it will be a game changer for the team and in recruiting.

“I go in there every Friday. It’s breathtaking when you walk in the place. It’s going to be a difference maker for us,” he said. “It shows the commitment we have in our program to have a championship program. That’s what you have to do, and you can’t just do it and stop. You have to keep doing it. You look at the programs that are winning a bunch of games right now; that’s what they’re doing. We’re going to continue to invest.”

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Collyn Taylor reports for GamecockCentral.com, the Rivals affiliate devoted to USC athletics.

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