Steve Spurrier's unfinished business: get South Carolina an SEC title

Steve Spurrier's South Carolina team is No. 8 in Chris Dufresne's college football countdown

Steve Spurrier, who could retire tomorrow and play high-caliber golf the rest of his life, instead seems hellbent on coaxing one more "We're No. 1" out of the football department.

It would be South Carolina's third foam finger … since 1892.

In 1969, the Gamecocks captured the Atlantic Coast Conference title and, in 1980, tailback George Rogers won the Heisman Trophy.

The rest of South Carolina's illustrious football history you could write on a postage stamp.

However, there is an undeniable current running through the program that Spurrier took over in 2005. South Carolina has finished 11-2 in three consecutive seasons and ended 2013 ranked No. 4 in both major national polls.

The Gamecocks lost starting quarterback Connor Shaw and all-world defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and were still picked by the media to win the Southeastern Conference's East Division.

This is the kind of stuff that used to happen at Florida, where Spurrier won seven SEC titles and a national title in 12 seasons.

Back then, you didn't base preseason projections on what players Florida was losing. The only question was: "Is Spurrier back?"

Spurrier, who is entering his 10th season at South Carolina, has nearly matched his tenure at Florida and is clearly committed to finish what he started.

"It took a few years to get where we are," Spurrier said at SEC media days in early August. "But that doesn't mean we've got it made. We could fall flat on our faces this year if we don't watch it."

Don't bet on that. Spurrier has turned a perennial doormat into a perennial power and desperately wants to cap his career by bringing to South Carolina its first SEC championship.

There may come a time when people say, all things considered, the coaching job Spurrier did at South Carolina was equal to — or better than — the job he did at Florida.

A trip to the first four-team playoff is not beyond reason, and that would mean a shot at what was previously unthinkable — a national title.

Karma alert: Carolina won its only league title in '69, which is the age Spurrier turned last April.

Once the conductor of Fun 'n' Gun at Florida, Spurrier has dialed down the flamboyance and turned South Carolina into one of the SEC's most rugged teams.

He's still hard on his quarterbacks, but has also offloaded responsibility onto other positions.

The Gamecocks will be led by a tailback, Mike Davis, who could run himself into Heisman Trophy contention, and four returning starters up front.

Losing Shaw at quarterback hurts, but successor Dylan Thompson will be surrounded by eight returning starters. Thompson also saw considerable action the last two years as Shaw, a talented runner, paid a physical price for taking on SEC linebackers.

"He's ready to have a big year, I believe," Spurrier said of Thompson after Saturday's intrasquad scrimmage.

Spurrier has displayed a quiet confidence about this team, as if he thinks he might have something special. He doesn't even seem that concerned over losing his two best defensive linemen, Clowney and Kelcy Quarles.

The program is at a stage where there isn't that much of a drop-off with the replacement parts. "I do think we are a school with advantages now," Spurrier said.

South Carolina opens strong with three big games — Texas A&M, East Carolina, Georgia — but they're all at home. The Gamecocks miss Alabama and Louisiana State in the West, meaning the SEC race probably gets decided with road games at Auburn on Oct. 25 and Florida on Nov. 15.

The countdown so far: 16. Notre Dame, 15. Mississippi, 14. Stanford, 13. Louisiana State, 12. Michigan State, 11. USC, 10. Baylor, 9. Georgia.

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad