COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- Steve Spurrier still loves to beat North Carolina. He'll get another chance when the sixth-ranked Gamecocks open the season against the Tar Heels on Thursday night.
Spurrier got his college football coaching start at Duke in 1987 and won all three meetings with rival North Carolina before moving on to become Florida's head coach. The Blue Devils have gone 2-21 in the series since Spurrier left to coach his alma mater after the 1989 season.
Spurrier has always been grateful that Duke gave him the chance to coach and said Sunday that it's still special when he faces the Tar Heels.
''Us Dukies back then, that was our big game. I doubt if it was for North Carolina because we did not beat them that much,'' Spurrier said. ''But when I was there we were fortunate enough to actually beat them more than they beat us.''
Spurrier's continued that touch the only time the two state schools have played since he joined South Carolina, a 21-15 Gamecock victory at Chapel Hill in 2006.
''Yeah, it is a little special when you are coaching against a team like'' North Carolina, Spurrier said.
Spurrier wouldn't mind creating more special moments this season. The Gamecocks are coming off two straight 11-2 seasons - something that had never been done in program history - and feature one of the country's most talked-about players in All-American defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
It's been nearly impossible to ignore the 6-foot-6, 274-pound junior since he sent runner Vincent Smith's helmet flying in South Carolina's Outback Bowl victory over Michigan last New Year's Day.
The Heisman Trophy talk (Clowney finished sixth in last year's balloting) began soon after and hasn't slowed up. Like former North Carolina coach Dean Smith and Tar Heel Michael Jordan, Spurrier's tried to slow down the outsized expectations surrounding the reigning Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year.
Spurrier closed public practices, in part to keep autograph hounds from pestering the good-natured Clowney on his way to and from the practice field. Clowney hasn't spoken to media since Aug. 4 and won't, by Spurrier's direction, until after Thursday night's contest.
''Jadeveon, obviously, he and 'Johnny Football' are the two guys the whole country's been talking about,'' Spurrier said, referring to Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. ''And I think Jadeveon's handled it very well. He's ready to go.''
Clowney better be. North Carolina has an experienced quarterback in Bryn Renner and a high-tempo offense that coach Larry Fedora used to succeed at Southern Miss.
Renner has thrown 54 touchdowns the past two years and is the only Tar Heels passer with more than 20 TDs in multiple seasons.
Fedora says Renner's improved in decision-making, leadership and knowledge of the offensive system. ''Big difference between now and last year this time,'' the coach said.
South Carolina's Chaz Sutton, the other defensive end on the Gamecocks, believes there's a huge difference, too, on his defensive line because Clowney had made others step up their games, too, during fall camp. Sutton said that will show in the opener.
''Any game we go into we just want to prove we can get to the quarterback quick and fast in a game,'' Sutton said. ''We just want to set the tone with our front four and be that way all night.''
Spurrier has said camp has gone well, although he's concerned with a couple of areas. Behind Clowney and the defensive line are some young linebackers who, while talented and fast, don't have game experience. The offensive line, which looked awful during scrimmages against Clowney, has tightened up some during workouts, Spurrier said.
Plus, injuries to receiver Bruce Ellington and tight end Rory Anderson have left the receiving corps short-handed, although the two are expected to play Thursday night.
''Anyway, we'll keep working on it up to game time and see if we can't pitch it around a little bit better than we have the last few days,'' he said.