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Spurrier, Gamecocks keep defying odds

3/4/2014

Did you see recently where Steve Spurrier said that winning was contagious?

He was referring to the entire South Carolina athletic program. The women’s basketball team just won its first SEC championship, and the Gamecocks’ nationally ranked baseball team is fresh off a three-game sweep of rival Clemson.

The Head Ball Coach knows a little something about winning. He won six SEC championships at Florida, seven if you ask him. The Gators had the best SEC record during his first season in Gainesville in 1990 but weren’t eligible for the title because of NCAA sanctions incurred on the previous staff’s watch.

Spurrier is and always has been a bottom-line guy, so he doesn’t really care what the official record book says. He counts it as a seventh SEC title.

And before he retires, he’s determined to get an eighth.

Spurrier, who turns 69 in April, has transformed South Carolina’s football program from the epitome of mediocrity to one of the pillars of consistency nationally.

South Carolina is one of four schools nationally to have won 11 or more games in each of the last three seasons. The other three are Alabama, Oregon and Stanford.

The Gamecocks have recorded three consecutive top-10 finishes and were the only team in the country last season to beat three teams that finished the season in the top 10 of the final Associated Press poll.

There’s also a five-game winning streak over Clemson -- the longest by either school during the modern era of that rivalry -- and the last time the Gamecocks lost at home was the fifth week of the 2011 season.

With everything Spurrier has done at South Carolina, the timing might seem right to some for the Head Ball Coach to ride off into sunset and bask in his Hall of Fame career while playing golf full time ... and making his playing partners putt everything out.

But that’s not the way he’s wired.

As long as he’s winning big, and at least knocking on the door of playing for an SEC championship, he’s not going anywhere.

The Gamecocks have lost key players -- several of them early to the NFL draft -- in each of the last few seasons. But they’ve kept on winning.

The challenge this next season will be equally steep with Connor Shaw, Jadeveon Clowney, Kelcy Quarles and Bruce Ellington all departing.

Spurrier, though, is confident that the standard has been set at South Carolina. The Gamecocks were scheduled to open spring practice Tuesday only to have it postponed by poor weather.

It doesn’t mean the Gamecocks have the best players or that they have out-recruited the likes of Alabama, Georgia, Florida and LSU.

As Spurrier is fond of saying, “The most talented teams don’t always win. Sometimes, you just have to play better than the other guy.”

The Gamecocks have made a living of doing just that under Spurrier, and as he enters his 10th season in Columbia, all those people who were convinced that he would never sniff an SEC title at South Carolina aren’t quite as convinced anymore.

Spurrier already is an SEC icon, both as a player and as a coach.

If he can bring an SEC title to South Carolina before he hangs up his visor for good, you’ll be able to count his peers in this league on one hand.

Heck, maybe on two or three fingers.