- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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Steve Spurrier’s not one to sweat a whole lot.
That’s whether he’s standing over a 10-foot birdie putt while playing golf with buddies in the offseason or watching from the sideline with South Carolina facing a crucial fourth-and-goal in the final minutes of a game.
It shouldn’t come as any surprise then that Spurrier isn’t sweating that seven SEC teams finished ahead of South Carolina in the latest ESPN recruiting rankings.
The Gamecocks checked in at No. 17 nationally this year. That’s after finishing No. 16 a year ago, No. 15 in 2011 and No. 23 in 2010.
On the field, though, they’ve fared much better, and that’s all that matters to the Head Ball Coach.
“It’s important to recruit well, but it’s not the only thing,” said Spurrier, who’s guided the Gamecocks to back-to-back top-10 finishes in the final polls.
“I tell people all the time that we’re never going to out-recruit Alabama, LSU, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and a lot of those schools, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to always beat us. Shoot, we’ve been beating them more than they’ve been beating us lately.
“So, yeah, it’s important, but it’s what they do after they get here that counts.”
Going back to the 2010 season, South Carolina is a combined 9-2 against Alabama, Florida, Georgia, LSU and Tennessee -- the teams the Gamecocks are “never going to out-recruit.” And if you throw in-state rival Clemson into that mix, the Gamecocks are 12-2.
Not only that, but South Carolina is one of only two SEC teams (along with Alabama) to have won 11 or more games each of the past two seasons.
Such unprecedented success at South Carolina has also helped to open up the checkbooks of donors, leading to much-needed facility upgrades.
“We’ve been fortunate to get the facilities up to speed,” Spurrier said. “Some of our boosters with big money have contributed very well. I think before I got here, they’d had one person give over a million bucks (to athletics) and now we’ve got about 10. So we’ve added about eight or nine since I got here.
“Every school has millionaires out there with lots of money. But when you start winning, fundraising becomes a lot easier.”
Already South Carolina’s all-time winningest coach, Spurrier will turn 68 in April. But in his mind, his business at South Carolina won’t be finished until the Gamecocks add some SEC hardware to their trophy case.
“Hopefully, the next step is an SEC championship. It’s as simple as that,” said Spurrier, who won six SEC titles at Florida. “The first thing we’ve got to do is get back to the game. We beat Georgia every year and then lose two, and they don’t lose again.
“But we hope to win an SEC (title). That hasn’t changed.”
Right now, everybody in the SEC is chasing Alabama, which has won three of the past four national championships.
But Spurrier said the gap’s not so wide that the Crimson Tide are poised to run off and leave everybody.
“No, they can be beat,” Spurrier said. “LSU had them beat this year. A&M managed to get them, and Georgia had a shot at them. Now, talent-wise, they’re way ahead of everybody. Gosh, they’ve got what … five first-round picks projected. We don’t have any projected and we went 11-2.
“Some days, you just have to play better than the other guy. If you play better than him, you can win.”
Spurrier points to South Carolina’s 35-21 victory over then No. 1-ranked Alabama in 2010 as proof.
“We had basically eight possessions and scored five touchdowns,” Spurrier said. “That’s what you call playing well. I don’t know if they’ve given up 35 points since.”
He’s right. They’ve haven’t. In fact, they’ve given up more than 20 points only four times to FBS foes since losing to the Gamecocks in 2010.
Still, Spurrier knows that everything will need to fall just right for the Gamecocks to win their first-ever SEC title.
They’re losing a lot of firepower on offense, but he’s excited about the overall strength of this signing class. Spurrier said he felt like ESPN 300 quarterback signee Connor Mitch, who’s already enrolled, was one of the best quarterback prospects in the Southeast.
In addition, running back David Williams of Philadelphia was ranked by ESPN as the No. 13 running back prospect nationally, and the Gamecocks also stocked up in the offensive line and at linebacker.
“It’s hard to say how far away we are (from winning an SEC title), but we’re going to keep pushing and see if we can get there,” Spurrier said.
It’s the reason he took the South Carolina job in the first place.
He revels in doing what everybody else says can’t be done.
2dSam Khan Jr.