- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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In Steve Spurrier's eight seasons as South Carolina's head coach, he's taken the Gamecocks to new heights.
His 2010 team beat three ranked opponents, including No. 1 Alabama, on its way to the school's first appearance in the SEC championship game. In 2011, he helped lead the Gamecocks to their first 11-win season, and then promptly followed that up with 11 more wins a year later. South Carolina also finished the 2011 season in the top 10 of the final AP poll for the first time in school history and did it again in 2012.
Spurrier has put South Carolina on the college football map and made the Gamecocks truly relevant. He's done a masterful job in Columbia, but there's more to be done ... and it needs to happen quickly.
After three straight years of a real upward trend, it's time for South Carolina to get over the hump and take home an SEC championship because time may be running out as other teams only get better in the SEC Eastern Division.
It seems as though the Gamecocks have accomplished everything in the past three years but win the SEC. They've gone 11-1 against rivals Clemson, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee, but have found ways to slip up along the way the last two years. There was the stunning 16-13 loss against Auburn in 2011 and the four-turnover slop-fest in the Swamp last year.
This year, South Carolina once again has the pieces to make it back to the SEC title game. Sure, there are holes at linebacker and in the secondary, but the defensive line is stacked and led by All-America man-beast Jadeveon Clowney. Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson are two very solid quarterbacks who will both get turns to lead this offense.
South Carolina isn't perfect, but neither are its adversaries. Questions surround Florida's offense, while Georgia's defensive has been completely rebuilt with very young, inexperienced players.
This is the time for the Gamecocks to pounce because Florida and Georgia are recruiting at an elite level and likely won't have the same issues next year. South Carolina will also be without key pieces, as Clowney will almost certainly be gone and Shaw will graduate. A good year by that line as a whole could also have more than Clowney leaving up front.
And the rest of the East could be gaining ground.
Vanderbilt is more competitive than ever and has been on a recruiting tear under James Franklin. New Kentucky coach Mark Stoops has been recruiting like a madman and is getting the attention of real SEC-quality players, while Missouri has young players on both sides who are growing more and more.
Under Spurrier, South Carolina will continue to recruit at a high level, but so will those around it. The Gamecocks have had the teams and opportunities to get back to Atlanta, but have continued to come up short. If they don't strike now, they could fall behind.