Steve Spurrier has made a name for himself by being a straight shooter.
He’s not one for canned quotes and he won’t sugarcoat anything, so when he was asked about what South Carolina needs to do to win its first SEC title, Spurrier gave a realistic answer.
“What I've also learned at South Carolina, our fans realize there's more to life than winning the SEC championship,” Spurrier said Tuesday at SEC media day. “They really do. We're in a state with Clemson. Clemson used to pretty much own South Carolina in football, no question about it. We have a state championship trophy. If you ask our fans at South Carolina, I can assure you a majority would say, we would rather beat Clemson than win the SEC. That is how big it is to them, that one game.
“Personally I'd rather win the SEC. I don't mind saying that. Personally that's the bigger trophy. But if we're not quite good enough, if it doesn't work out, we're not going to hang our hat and say, we're not going to win the SEC. But there's other things out there.”
To understand that answer — an answer probably no other coach in the SEC would have given — you have to understand the history of South Carolina football.
When Spurrier was hired for the 2005 season, the Gamecocks had only had six winning seasons in the 15 years prior and their best season in that span was a 9-3 campaign in 2001. It had only had one 10-win season in its history and the idea of winning an SEC title (in its current format) was pipe dream.
That was until Spurrier arrived.
Since 2005, the Gamecocks haven’t had a losing season and they've gone 11-2 in each of the past three years, a school record. They won the SEC East in 2010 and has come oh so close in each of the last three years.
“We need one of those Eastern Division teams to lose a game,” Spurrier said. “We've gone 6-2 in the conference and beat the division winner three years in a row. Then they go 7-1. All you can do is give Georgia credit and give Missouri credit for doing it also.”
Being the best in the East, arguably the weaker side of the SEC, has been a challenge for Spurrier’s teams, but this is shaping up to be the year the Gamecocks get over that hump again.
The biggest challenge — as it is almost every year — is getting past Georgia. Of all the teams in the East, South Carolina and Georgia appear to be head and shoulders above the rest. Missouri, last year’s East champion, is rebuilding and no one knows what to expect from Florida. In recent history, there hasn’t been much to fear from Tennessee, Kentucky or Vanderbilt.
So, the home game against Georgia on Sept. 13 will definitely give the winner a leg up in the East. And the rest of the schedule sets up nicely for the Gamecocks. of the game at Auburn on Oct. 25, there aren't a lot of obstacles.
If quarterback Dylan Thompson, who has played on and off throughout his career, can stay healthy and play up to his potential, then the Gamecocks, who have a would-be Heisman Trophy candidate in running back Mike Davis, could have one of the most potent offenses in the East. If nothing else, it could have the most talented offensive line in the country.
But it’s the defense that has many concerned.
South Carolina loses Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles to the NFL and now has no proven pass rusher. The secondary is totally depleted with cornerback Rico Williams as the only returner and the only secondary player to have played a game.
Still, South Carolina fans should be looking at this season as one that not only embraces beating rival Clemson, but also looks forward to playing in the SEC title game.
“Hopefully we can add an SEC championship,” Spurrier said. “I can assure you, I tell those recruits, if you come here, hopefully you'll be on the first ever SEC championship team ever. That's still our goal. We haven't quite done it. I think we've been close but not close enough.”
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