GAMECOCK COACH BRIMMING WITH CONFIDENCE …
The University of South Carolina football team enters the 2014 season ranked No. 9 in the nation – five spots below its school-record 2013 finish. The Gamecocks (0-0, 0-0 SEC) have a lot of questions to answer – starting with how will their defensive unit will respond to losing No. 1 overall NFL draft pick Jadeveon Clowney?
Clowney’s 2013 campaign wasn’t quite the same tour de force as his sensational sophomore season, but the extent to which teams were forced to compensate for his presence on the field made it much easier for other Gamecock defenders to make plays.
Meanwhile on offense South Carolina is losing its heart and soul with the departure of Connor Shaw – the winningest, grittiest quarterback in school history and the guy who led the team to three consecutive Top Ten finishes.
If head coach Steve Spurrier is worried about these personnel losses, though, he sure isn’t showing it.
Last month Spurrier made headlines by poking at Alabama head coach Nick Saban – you know, the guy whose program has won three of the last five national championships.
This week Spurrier trained his fire at Texas A&M – which enters the 2014 season ranked No. 20 in the nation. The Aggies (0-0, 0-0 SEC) will head to Columbia, S.C. on August 28 to take on the Gamecocks in the season opener for both squads. Odds makers have installed the Gamecocks as early 10-point favorites at home.
“They haven’t played the bigger teams so their schedule has been a little misleading,” Spurrier told reporter Josh Kendall at The (Columbia, S.C.) State newspaper – a diss that quickly made its way to the Lone Star State.
Spurrier also referred to several of Texas A&M’s 2013 non-conference opponents – Rice, Sam Houston State, SMU and UTEP – as “barely Division I.”
Spurrier also noted how the Aggies stopped their 115-year rivalry with perennial national powerhouse Texas when they bolted the Big XII for the Southeastern Conference, contrasting that decision with the Gamecocks ongoing rivalry with ACC powerhouse Clemson.
South Carolina also played eventual BCS bowl winner Central Florida on its 2013 non-conference slate – beating the Golden Knights on the road (with backup quarterback Dylan Thompson running the offense, incidentally).
During his twelve seasons at the University of Florida, Spurrier developed a reputations as a brash trash-talker – getting inside the heads of his opponents (especially the University of Tennessee). During his first five years in Columbia, Spurrier said little – and with good reason. The Gamecocks were a mediocre program with a losing record in the SEC – and we were ready to run Spurrier out of town on a rail.
Over the last four seasons, though, Spurrier’s teams have gone 42-11. That stretch includes three straight 11-win seasons, three straight New Year’s Day bowl victories and three straight Top Ten finishes – a level of success South Carolina fans only dreamt about prior to his arrival.
More importantly to die-hard Carolina fans, Spurrier has beaten arch-rival Clemson five times in a row – at a time when the Clemson program is also enjoying tremendous success of its own under head coach Dabo Swinney. In fact there’s a big story in The Sporting News this week about the Carolina-Clemson rivalry emerging on the national stage.
Spurrier watchers have long noted that the better his teams are – the more he talks. That would portend good things for Gamecock fans in 2014. Also it’s impossible to ignore that the Gamecocks received one first-place vote in the preseason USA Today/ Coaches’ poll.
And our guess is that wasn’t Swinney’s ballot …