Today, he has his first ranked team as a college head coach and welcomes the recognition.
The Gamecocks (5-1, 1-1 OVC) found themselves ranked for the first time in 55 weeks Monday when they landed at No. 24 in both the FCS Coaches Poll and Sports Network media poll.
It is their first appearance in any poll since pulling down a No. 24 ranking in the TSN poll Sept. 17, 2012, and their first appearance in the coaches poll since sitting at No. 18 on Halloween 2011.
“I like that our players are recognized, and in the grand scheme of things, down the road, all this could be important to get in playoffs, so all that’s important,” Clark said Monday. “You’d rather be in than not be in.
“Obviously, we’ve done some good things, and it is far enough along into the season to say (the ranking has) some validity, yet it’s a week by week thing. We all know that. It’s good for them to be recognized, but let’s keep it in perspective.”
It’s the latest the Gamecocks have made their first appearance in the poll since 2003 when they broke in at 6-3 on Nov. 10 at 20th in the coaches poll and 21st in the Sports Network rankings.
They were one of seven 4-0 teams in the country this year when the questions of being ranked first arose, but apparently left little impression on the voters. They opened the season with a close road win over Alabama State, then swamped non-scholarship Jacksonville and beat Division II North Alabama and FBS newcomer Georgia State both in overtime.
During the last two weeks, they compiled 652 yards of offense in an overtime loss to current OVC co-leader Murray State and beat then-No. 22 Tennessee-Martin on the road.
“There’s been a lot of firsts (this year), and that’s what we’re discovering with our team,” Clark said. “Every day we learn something new, and we’re starting to figure out more and more about who we are and that’s going to allow us, hopefully, to be better.”
If anyone should have an issue with the polls, it should be Tennessee State.
The Tigers (5-1, 2-0) have won five straight and are tied for the OVC lead, but they missed breaking into this week’s TSN Top 25 by 52 points behind No. 25 New Hampshire (1-3), one of two teams with a losing record in the poll. No. 20 Central Arkansas is 2-3.
The Tigers also are one of two teams 5-1 or better not in that poll. They are, however, No. 23 in a coaches poll that includes all 10 teams 5-1 or better, 10 points ahead of Jacksonville State.
The national polls may create conversation, but there is another ranking connected to Saturday’s homecoming game that has garnered a lot more of the Gamecocks’ attention.
TSU has the No. 1 defense in the FCS this week. The Tigers are first in total defense, second in passing yards allowed and third in scoring defense.
They are holding opponents to 105 yards and 11.4 points below their season averages at the time of their games.
“We’d better be ready,” Clark said. “Playing the No. 1 defense is daunting, but it should be a challenge that we should embrace and be excited about.
“Any time you play a conference opponent for homecoming, it worries me because the old mindset of homecoming is that it’s some patsy you bring in, and this is so far from that. This is arguably ... the best team we have played this year, and we are playing in front of folks that may only see us play once a year, so it’s a big deal to us.”
The Gamecocks are 37-26 as a ranked team since 1995. They are 2-13 in games when both teams are ranked.
Sports Writer Al Muskewitz: 256-235-3577. On Twitter @almusky_star.