- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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All that chirping you hear coming from South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier can only mean one thing: He’s convinced his team is pretty good.
The Head Ball Coach has never really lacked confidence, but the more digs he takes, the more he likes what he has on the field. And that means good things for the Gamecocks.
Two years removed from taking South Carolina to its first-ever SEC championship game, Spurrier will enter the 2012 season with a team poised to make yet another SEC title run, as the Gamecocks continue to trend upward in the conference.
Not to be outdone, Arkansas, which joined the league with South Carolina in 1992, has also made tremendous strides and once again has the talent to compete for an SEC West championship.
Two programs that have dealt with inconsistency in the past have now become legitimate contenders in the nation’s toughest league. Not just for now but the future.
It was clear Arkansas made the right choice in 2007 when it hired Bobby Petrino away from the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. Sure, his awkward departure from Atlanta will forever be scrutinized -- and rightly so -- but in only a short amount of time he turned Arkansas into a real winner.
After winning just five games in 2008, Arkansas won eight, then 10 and 11 games in 2011. Arkansas reached its first-ever BCS bowl game in 2010 and then won 11 games for the first time since 1977.
Petrino’s on-field success also led to some nice facility upgrades for the program. The school has touched up Razorback Stadium and recently broke ground on a new, $35 million football operations center that the Hogs will move into before the 2013 season.
There was a wave of momentum churning in Fayetteville after last season and Petrino made it clear that he thought his 2012 squad might be even better than last season's 11-win team. But that wave was momentarily silenced in April when Petrino was fired after he withheld information about an affair that he carried on with a football employee he hired, Jessica Dorrell.
After reaching the threshold under Petrino, the Hogs are now putting things back together under interim coach John L. Smith. Smith is surrounded by elite talent, especially on offense and a strong showing in 2012 should keep things rolling in Fayetteville for Arkansas’ next coach.
Before Spurrier arrived in Columbia, S.C., the Gamecocks were hardly intimidating. There were some ups under former coach Lou Holtz, but Spurrier has truly made this program respectable. While he hasn’t seen the immediate success he did when he took over Florida’s program in the early 1990s, South Carolina has made a tremendous turnaround under his watch.
The program that lost 18 straight SEC games from 1997-99 has won no fewer than three conference games in Spurrier’s seven years at South Carolina, has had an SEC title trip and its first 11-win season in program history.
A lot of that success has come from keeping most of the top in-state talent home, which historically wasn’t the case. It started with Alshon Jeffery and Stephon Gilmore in 2009 and continued with Marcus Lattimore, Jadeveon Clowney, and now Shaq Roland.
The past wasn’t great for either of these programs, but in recent years, both Arkansas and South Carolina have thrown themselves right in the middle of the SEC conversation and both are looking to stay there for the foreseeable future.
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