SEC: Steve Spurrier

SEC morning links

October, 15, 2014
Oct 15
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If you read this blog with any sort of regularity, you already know that SEC commissioner Mike Slive, 74, announced on Tuesday that he is retiring next summer. Let's devote this space to the man who transformed the SEC into college football's greatest juggernaut.

There's no doubt he will leave some massive shoes to fill, Slive also replaced a visionary leader. Roy Kramer, SEC commissioner from 1990 to 2002, expanded the conference to 12 teams, split it into two divisions and added the all-important conference championship game.

Slive took the league to new heights. Winning seven straight football national championships is a weighty legacy, but take a look at his track record in leading the SEC's business dealings: He negotiated a stunning 15-year, $2.25-billion TV rights deal with ESPN, expanded to 14 teams, launched the SEC network and more than tripled the total payout to member institutions from $95.7 million when he took over in 2002 to $309.6 million this year.

Slive became one of the most powerful people in sports. Naturally the announcement of his retirement was met with an outpouring of gratitude, admiration and exaltation.

The question on deck is who replaces this monolithic figure. The SEC presidents will decide on whom to hire, and the speculation has already begun. The ideas range from the light-hearted (Commissioner Steve Spurrier, anyone?) to the downright silly (Commissioner Lane Kiffin?) to the expected favorite (Slive's No. 2 man is SEC Chief Operating Officer Greg Sankey).

Whoever it is will have all the resources imaginable, greater autonomy and nothing less than the weight of the college football world bearing down. Good luck!

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Planning for success: Kentucky

October, 14, 2014
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The state of Mississippi’s rise as a football power might overshadow it among popular SEC storylines, but Mark Stoops is authoring his own feel-good tale at Kentucky.

Entering Saturday’s visit to LSU (5-2, 1-2), Stoops’ Wildcats (5-1, 2-1) are looking like this season’s Vanderbilt -- a longtime SEC East doormat that comes out of nowhere to post a surprising win total.

[+] EnlargeMark Stoops
Mark Zerof/USA TODAY SportsMark Stoops has quietly built a 5-1 record in his second season at Kentucky, but the schedule is about to get a lot harder.
Kentucky was a total train wreck a couple of seasons ago and went 2-10 and failed to win a single conference game last year in Stoops’ first season as head coach. But he and his staff have signed two impressive recruiting classes and quickly built the Wildcats into a threat to beat the traditional powers in the SEC East.

If their 36-30 loss at Florida -- when a missed delay-of-game infraction enabled the Gators to score the game-tying touchdown and eventually win in overtime -- wasn’t enough proof, the Wildcats’ 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to beat South Carolina 45-38 should do the trick. They could easily be undefeated right now, which has to surprise even the most loyal Kentucky fan.

The true test of Kentucky’s legitimacy has yet to arrive, however. The Wildcats have a back-loaded schedule, so matching Vandy’s back-to-back nine-win seasons under James Franklin will be no easy feat.

Beyond Saturday’s trip to Tiger Stadium, Kentucky next must face Mississippi State, Missouri, Georgia, Tennessee and Louisville. The good news is that the toughest two opponents -- No. 1 Mississippi State and No. 10 Georgia -- must travel to Lexington, where the Wildcats have already defeated South Carolina and Vanderbilt. Perhaps the Wildcats will win one or both of those home games, but anything beyond achieving bowl eligibility will be icing on the cake considering where the program sat when Stoops took over from Joker Phillips.

The Wildcats last played in the postseason in 2010, Phillips’ first season as head coach. That was the end of a five-year run where Kentucky played in a bowl game each season, with the previous four coming under Rich Brooks. Things went south quickly from there, though, with the Wildcats going 5-7 in Phillips’ second season and 2-10 (0-8 SEC) in 2012, with athletic director Mitch Barnhart announcing during the season that Phillips would not return as head coach.

A season-and-a-half after inheriting that mess, Stoops has Kentucky in position to contend in the the East.

As with Franklin’s Vanderbilt in 2012 and 2013, it helps that the Wildcats play in a division where the traditional powers are down. Tennessee and Florida aren’t the dominant SEC forces that they once were, and South Carolina has obviously taken a step backward after winning 11 games in each of the last three seasons.

It’s certainly fair to point that out, but even so, we’re unaccustomed to seeing Kentucky take Florida to the wire or topple Steve Spurrier and South Carolina. The Wildcats haven’t started a season 5-1 since 2007, after all, and have won as many as eight games in a season just three times in the last 30 years.

Beating South Carolina was nice, but we’re about to see whether Kentucky is more than an improved team that faced a soft early schedule. They’ve already gotten their nonconference cupcakes (Tennessee-Martin and Louisiana-Monroe) and their one SEC gimme (Vandy) out of the way. Up next are some of the SEC’s big boys and, of course, the regular-season finale at rival Louisville, which has won the last three Governor’s Cup showdowns.

Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen and Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze seem like shoo-in favorites to win the SEC’s Coach of the Year awards, but Stoops would also have a legitimate case if the Wildcats keep this up in the second half.

SEC morning links

October, 10, 2014
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1. Looks like the SEC East race changed a ton as soon as Georgia sent out a news release announcing that its star tailback Todd Gurley is indefinitely suspended. Gurley is reportedly being investigated for accepting extra benefits for memorabilia and/or autographs. Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel only sat out the first half of last season’s opener after getting caught up in an autograph-sale scandal. It's unclear how much time Gurley will miss, but he will not play in the Bulldogs’ pivotal game at Missouri on Saturday. Unfortunately for Heisman Trophy contenders, you don’t get to go through life experiences quietly and out of the public eye. This also reignites a reasonable debate about whether a college athlete deserves to have the ability to profit from his or her likeness or signature. This probably won’t be the last time a college star is embroiled in this kind of situation.

2. Without question, one of the biggest games in the SEC this weekend is Ole Miss’ visit to Texas A&M. Manziel led A&M to narrow wins against the Rebels in both 2012 and 2013, but it’s now on Kenny Hill to carry the Aggies’ offense. Those Ole Miss teams weren’t ranked third nationally like this one, though, and these Rebels remember those bitter defeats well. What makes this game particularly intriguing is the matchup between Ole Miss’ defense which might be the best in the SEC and an A&M offense that typically puts up points in droves -- although Mississippi State proved last weekend that the Aggies can be stopped. Here’s a good Ole Miss-A&M breakdown from the Dallas Morning News. One more item to watch on Saturday: If it rains, keep an eye on the turf conditions at new Kyle Field. The field was a mess in the Aggies’ last home game against Rice following a night of heavy rain.

3. Love him or hate him, you can usually expect to hear Steve Spurrier say something interesting. Check out some of his comments on Wednesday night’s call-in show. Gems like, “I am embarrassed at times the way we play.” Spurrier’s South Carolina players say they haven’t lost faith in quarterback Dylan Thompson, but it’s clear that he needs to play better as the Gamecocks hit the stretch run in the SEC East. South Carolina has a week off to lick its wounds after last Saturday’s upset loss to Kentucky. Meanwhile the Wildcats, enter Saturday’s game against Louisiana-Monroe as one of the SEC’s feel-good stories. At 4-1, Kentucky boasts one of the nation’s top pass defenses.

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Florida’s back to its ground-and-pound identity because of its problems in the passing game.

Speaking of the running game, LSU knows it needs to get its ground game going against Florida on Saturday.

Sammie Coates and Duke Williams get most of the headlines, but Auburn’s receiving corps is much deeper than just the two biggest stars.

Arkansas defensive backs coach Clay Jennings compares Alabama receiver Amari Cooper to NFL star Calvin Johnson.

A new sexual assault claim has surfaced in the Vanderbilt rape case from last year.

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Diehard SEC enthusiasts, let this soak in for a moment: The college football world cares more about what’s happening in the state of Mississippi than Florida-Tennessee week.

Florida-Tennessee is just another game as two great rivals, who have lost the art of good-natured trash talk that added so much to this game, are unranked and unfit for a playoff run.

Granted, Florida’s nine-game winning streak in the series -- against four different Tennessee coaches -- hasn’t exactly helped it keep national interest. But to see this game moved from the third Saturday in September to a noon ET kick feels wrong.

“When I saw that the time was a noon game, that’s just disrespectful because it’s basically like, ‘You guys hurry up and play, get your game over with, and all the big-money games will be playing at 3:30 and at night time,’” said former Tennessee running back Jabari Davis. “I felt like it was kind of a slap in the face.”

The unfortunate truth is the sport has moved on without this game, and it’s easy to see why.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
RVR Photos/USA TODAY SportsPeyton Manning went 0-4 against the Gators, a fact Florida fans love to repeat.
The disappearance of the iconic coaching matchup of Steve Spurrier and Phillip Fulmer, parity in the East, the decline of both programs and the emergence of the West have put this game on the back burner.

When these teams clashed in the 1990s, they did so as the SEC’s best.

“You look at it and whoever won that game, we felt, was going to go win the SEC,” said Tennessee native and former Florida linebacker James Bates. “It was pretty much fact.”

That’s no longer the case.

“I feel like, ‘My gosh, college football, it’s Florida-Tennessee weekend,” Bates said. “Isn’t this a beautiful thing?’”

Pitted against each other in the East, they were hitting their strides at the perfect time. Florida already had Spurrier, a Tennessee native, and Tennessee was introducing Fulmer, whom Spurrier continuously gigged.

Even with Florida winning seven of 10 in the ‘90s, this game was must-see TV and must-win for the teams.

There were good games, but former Florida receiver Chris Doering isn’t ready to say Tennessee was Florida’s equal.

“I wouldn’t say it was a mutual respect,” Doering said. “We were aware that they were probably the most competitive team in the conference, outside of us, but we felt like we had their number. We felt like we owned them and we felt like we were in their minds.

“The fact of the matter is they always had an excuse and always found a way to let us win that game.”

It’s like the game never truly died.

You had “Faxgate” in 1991, Florida christening Neyland Stadium’s new grass field with a 31-0 win in '94, and Peyton Manning watching his 30-14 second-quarter lead in the Swamp turn into a 62-37 romp by the Gators in '95.

There was Deon Grant’s one-handed interception and Collins Cooper’s missed overtime field goal that gave Tennessee a victory in '98, which stopped a five-game losing streak to Florida and prompted fans to flood the field in Knoxville.

“In a lot of cases for a lot of Tennessee fans, they can lose every game, but if they beat Florida, they’ll be satisfied,” said former Tennessee running back Travis Stephens.

Did Jabar Gaffney really hold on to the ball long enough in 2000?

“Of course he did. Are you kidding me? That was a touchdown,” Doering said.

In 2001 the Vols, 18-point underdogs, stunned arguably Spurrier’s most talented team with a 34-32 victory in which Stephens gashed Florida’s defense for 226 rushing yards and two touchdowns, and quarterback Casey Clausen directed the Tennessee band in “Rocky Top” for all of Gator Nation to see -- and hear.

“That was a game that we weren’t expected to win at all,” Stephens said with a laugh. “Nobody gave us a chance at all. It’ll live on for a long time.”

It was a playoff game before playoff games were cool, fashioned with roses -- for a perceived trip to the Rose Bowl -- and cigars in Tennessee’s locker room, and a campus celebration that same night.

[+] EnlargeSteve Spurrier
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesSteve Spurrier loved to get under Tennessee's skin when he was the Gators coach.
“I don’t think I went to bed that night because I was up partying,” Davis said. “That’s when I found out how real Tennessee football was. We were like a rock band coming in preparing for a tour.”

There was plenty of talking, too, but mainly from the Florida side.

Bates wondered aloud to a reporter if Neyland’s record-setting crowd in 1996 left early because it had to watch “The Jeff Foxworthy Show” and later created an alter-ego named Luther Ogle to mock Tennessee fans.

Spurrier dug at Manning, who never beat Florida: I know why Peyton came back for his senior year. He wanted to be a three-time star of the Citrus Bowl.

Spurrier coupling Tennessee with the Citrus Bowl: I heard they just hung a new sign outside the Citrus Bowl in Orlando: Winter Home of the Tennessee Volunteers.

Constantly: You know you can’t spell Citrus without U-T.

“For a head coach to come out and talk the way he did, it kinda rubbed you the wrong way, but it’s not like you can get on the field or fight him,” said former Tennessee defensive end Leonard Little.

Added Bates: “As much as I loved to beat them and rub it in to my friends, the fact that the head coach and the leader of the University of Florida football program would add to the misery of all those Tennessee fans for all those years ... by jabbing them and jabbing them, that made it even more fun.”

In fairness to the Head Ball Coach, Tennessee did play in the Citrus Bowl three times from 1993-96.

Saturday’s game comes with limited national gusto, but it’s still special for the opposing sides. With both teams looking to reclaim some pride, Saturday serves as a barometer for both programs.

“For the players in this game, it doesn’t really matter what time it is,” said former Tennessee wide receiver Jayson Swain. “The game could be at midnight, it could be at six in the morning, it can be in a parking lot, it doesn’t matter; it’s Florida-Tennessee. Let’s rumble. Let’s do it.”
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier beamed when he sprang into his postgame press conference room Saturday evening. He had just watched his Gamecocks shock No. 6 Georgia -- the team picked by many to represent the SEC in the College Football Playoff after just one game -- 38-35 with a gutsy, yet controversial, call to go for it on fourth-and-inches.

[+] EnlargeSteve Spurrier
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsSteve Spurrier again got the best of Georgia and showed that South Carolina will make noise in the SEC Eastern Division.
The Head Ball Coach, who was labeled "done" by some after an unconvincing 1-1 start that featured an epic beat down from Texas A&M, was smiling once again after besting his favorite SEC pinata -- Georgia.

Spurrier got his 16th win over Georgia -- the most by any coach over the Dawgs -- and his fourth out of the last five meetings. He and his team also showed that what we thought of South Carolina heading into last weekend wasn't exactly true. There are still issues with the Gamecocks, especially on defense, but we were quick to write off the very team picked in the preseason to win the SEC Eastern Division.

"This is a good one," Spurrier said of Saturday's win. "I knew we had a good chance to beat them when I heard [ESPN radio host Paul] Finebaum picked them [Georgia] to win by about 25 points. He picked Alabama to beat Oklahoma by 25 [in last season’s Allstate Sugar Bowl] too. I said, 'We gotta chance tonight then.'”

Yeah, all that negativity we showed the Gamecocks last week didn't go unnoticed in Columbia.

“I’m not going to lie and tell you that I wasn’t watching TV, seeing people say that Georgia was the No. 1 team, have them winning the playoff," South Carolina running back Mike Davis said. "Watching GameDay and seeing all those guys pick UGA, and having [ESPN college football analyst] Kirk [Herbstreit] being the only one who said we were going to win. This is a big confidence booster for our team.”

So South Carolina isn't dead, and it's clear that the SEC East is still very much wide open.

What else were we quick to assume about the SEC?

1. Jake Coker isn't ready: We all thought Coker would be Alabama's starting quarterback. Well, it's Florida week and veteran Blake Sims is very much the guy and has a big lead on Coker. Unlike Coker, Sims is limited with his arm, but he's done nothing to lose the starting job, while Coker has done nothing to take it.

2. Arkansas isn't the pushover it has been: We figured it'd be another ho-hum year for the Razorbacks. Then they challenged Auburn in the first half of their opener and literally ran over Nicholls State and Texas Tech with 933 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground. Arkansas looks like it can run on anyone.

3. Vanderbilt is in trouble: We thought the talent was still there for Vanderbilt to make another quality run under Derek Mason in his first year with the Commodores. Well, we aren't sure what's up, but the Commodores are lucky to be 1-2 at this point. After getting outscored 78-10 against Temple and Ole Miss, the Dores needed a last-second missed field goal to escape the UMass game.

4. Florida's defense has to climb back to elite status: We questioned Florida's offense, which still has concerns, but we didn't press the defense. Well, it turns out that there are actually real concerns with this younger unit. Coverage breakdowns fueled 369 Kentucky passing yards and three touchdowns. Also, can anyone besides Dante Fowler Jr. rush the passer?

5. Mississippi State's secondary has questions: It's early, but the Bulldogs have had issues in the back end of their defense. Through three games, the Bulldogs have allowed an average of 311.7 passing yards per game. Corner Taveze Calhoun, who garnered tons of preseason praise, and the guys around him at corner and safety have really underperformed to start the season.

6. Texas A&M is still pretty good: Wasn't this team supposed to take a few steps back without Johnny Manziel? Well, the Aggies didn't get the memo. Texas A&M upset South Carolina 52-28 to start the year, the defense looks better and quarterback Kenny Hill leads the SEC with 1,094 yards and has 11 touchdowns. I can't believe someone didn't think an A&M quarterback would throw for 3,000 yards this season ...

7. Kentucky can upset someone: If you watched any part of Florida's triple-overtime win over Kentucky, you'd know the Wildcats are better than they have been in years. Patrick Towles threw for almost 400 yards on the Gators with a handful of playmakers to use that this team hasn't had in a while. Also, that defense is much better with Bud Dupree and Za'Darius Smith battling for the top defensive end duo in the SEC.

8. Tennessee doesn't have a quarterback issue: We thought there was too much uncertainty surrounding Tennessee's quarterbacks. Well, we were wrong, as Justin Worley has been solid, making tremendous throws through the first two games. He struggled against Oklahoma but is averaging 240 yards per game and has six touchdown passes.

9. Missouri isn't ready to take a step back: We thought there were a lot of questions for Mizzou on both sides of the ball, and there still might be, but this team isn't ready to bow out in the SEC. The competition hasn't been great, but Mizzou has done exactly what's been asked, outscoring teams 125-52.

10. Leonard Fournette isn't Michael Jordan ... yet: We thought Fournette would have at least 1,000 rushing yards and, like, 20 touchdowns at this point. What a disappointment! It's a long season folks, but Fournette is still learning and has just 162 yards and two touchdowns. He'll be great, but we actually have to be patient with him.
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South Carolina quarterback Dylan Thompson thought he had just ended the game.

With 5:24 left in the fourth quarter, and the Gamecocks clinging to a 38-35 lead over sixth-ranked Georgia, Thompson gift wrapped an interception for Georgia cornerback Damian Swann. The veteran defensive back scooted toward the end zone and an illegal block on the Gamecocks gave Georgia the ball at South Carolina's 4-yard line after Swann was eventually tackled.

No one could possibly judge Thompson's immediate assumption about the outcome of the game. With Georgia holding the nation's best player -- running back Todd Gurley -- in its backfield, you just knew that the Dawgs would pull ahead.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley
Jeff Blake/USA TODAY SportsTodd Gurley never got a chance to give Georgia the lead when the Bulldogs had a first down inside South Carolina's 5-yard line late in the game.
But when offensive coordinator Mike Bobo could have just handed the ball to his freight train running back 12 feet away from the goal line, he decided to give quarterback Hutson Mason the opportunity to shine. What ensued was a bizarre set of events that included a perplexing intentional grounding play -- on first down, no less -- and a missed chip-shot field-goal attempt by the very reliable Marshall Morgan.

Minutes later, the Gamecocks were celebrating and rushing through their own set of hedges in the end zone to mob their fantastic student section.

"We were meant to win this game, and Georgia was not," said South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, who improved to 16-6 all-time against Georgia.

That might be true, and though there were a lot of questionable calls and no-calls that helped the Gamecocks along the way (has anyone found the phantom hold that took away the early 54-yard Gurley touchdown?), not giving Gurley, who had 128 rushing yards to that point, the ball inside the 5 was a mistake of epic proportions. Everyone in the stadium expected No. 3 to get the ball, and he should have. Even if South Carolina had all 11 defenders stacked in the box, the first -- and only -- call you have to start the drive is to hand it to the best and toughest running back in the entire country.

Instead, Georgia gambled with the pass and Mason's penalty moved the Dawgs back 10 yards. Georgia eventually had to settle for a field-goal attempt that was missed.

"If I had to do it again we would’ve hammered it," Georgia coach Mark Richt said after the game.

Bobo wasn't made available to the media after the game.

At least Richt knows it wasn't the right call, but there is nothing that can be done about it now. You learn and move on, but this one will sting. There will be a lot of finger-pointing by fans, as the Bulldogs dive into the teeth of conference season. And this play could come back to haunt the Bulldogs if they don't make it to Atlanta for the SEC title game in December.

Forget all the craziness that certainly didn't help Georgia on Saturday, that first-down call will leave a sick feeling in Athens for months if the Bulldogs continue to look up in the SEC East standings.

We don't know if Gurley, who had already made a handful of dazzling/gritty plays before that drive even began, would have punched the ball in on first down, but he was without a doubt the best option in that situation.

SEC morning links

September, 15, 2014
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Arkansas' 49-28 win at Texas Tech was a big one for the Hogs in the Bret Bielema era, perhaps the biggest to date. It's a sign of a program showing improvement after a rough 2013. In the aftermath, much of the discussion focused on the Razorbacks' running game, led by Alex Collins, Jonathan Williams and that big Arkansas offensive line. Rightfully so. But what is easy to overlook is the performance of the Razorbacks' defense, which took some body blows early but had an impressive second half, holding the high-powered Red Raiders to just seven points. New defensive coordinator Robb Smith's crew stood up to the challenge Texas Tech presented and helped Arkansas score a seminal win as a result.

Though they lost, Kentucky opened a lot of eyes on Saturday night in the Swamp. Taking Florida to three overtimes in a 36-30 loss is notable for a program that has been a cellar dweller. One of the reasons for the Wildcats' ability to compete is the increased talent on the field they've gathered in recruiting under coach Mark Stoops. Several of those young Wildcats, especially receiver Garrett Johnson, give Kentucky reason for hope in the future.

Alabama coach Nick Saban is often cited as one of the most detailed-oriented coaches around. That may be true, but it doesn't apply to every part of the game, apparently. Asked after Saturday's win over Southern Mississippi about the play of left guard Leon Brown, Saban admitted that he doesn't pay much attention to the offensive linemen. As a former quarterback and defensive back, he focuses on the skill players. He emphasized that the linemen are important but that he doesn't even "watch them during individual [drills]." You can see the video, where Saban smiles and jokes his way through the soliloquy, here.

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – The rumors of South Carolina’s demise will have to be put on hold for at least another week.

Left for dead on the side of Interstate 77, the Gamecocks headed into Saturday’s supposed beating as an afterthought in the SEC race. Forget Atlanta; South Carolina was just hoping it could play in another January bowl game.

After a 52-28 opening loss at home to Texas A&M, it seemed only logical that Georgia, a team many had tabbed as the nation’s best after its Week 1 thrashing of Clemson, would thump the Gamecocks right out of the SEC East picture.

But college football has a funny way of making us all look foolish and making the Head Ball Coach smile. After an hour-and-a-half weather delay pushed kickoff back to 5:05 p.m. ET and the skies opened up during the game, the 24th-ranked Gamecocks (2-1) held strong for a thrilling 38-35 win over No. 6 Georgia (1-1).

“Some wins are better than others,” said a chipper Spurrier, whose Gamecocks have won four of five against Georgia. “This one was better than most others.”

It was an instant classic that few saw coming, and now the Gamecocks are right back in the SEC race. In fact, with the schedule South Carolina has been blessed with, the Gamecocks are back in the conversation as the favorite in the SEC East.

Move over, Georgia, because again you’re looking up at South Carolina, and the Gamecocks on Saturday played like they weren't on the same planet as the team that sputtered around Williams-Brice Stadium during the first two weeks of the season.

[+] EnlargePharoh Cooper
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesSouth Carolina's Pharoh Cooper scores on an 8-yard catch in the first quarter Saturday.
“You have no idea how close this team is. It truly is unbelievable,” said South Carolina quarterback Dylan Thompson, who threw for a game-high 271 yards and three touchdowns. “… Even in the game when everyone was writing us off, we still love each other and we’re going to battle. That’s just the way that we play.

“I love this team. I love my brothers.”

The Gamecocks were far from perfect, but they were gritty. They were passionate and hopped up on "Sandstorm," played on six fantastically timed occasions.

Thompson picked apart Georgia’s secondary with ease. The middle of the field was wide open for most of the game, something Thompson admitted he saw on a lot of film during his game preparation.

Georgia running back Todd Gurley was his normal beastly self, but his 131 rushing yards weren’t enough. While South Carolina’s defense had a lot of bend with the dazzling Mr. Gurley, it refused to break at key moments and managed to contain him.

Gurley was going to get his yards, regardless, but what South Carolina did was put the game on Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason’s shoulders. Mason's inability to complete -- or really attempt -- big plays downfield allowed the Gamecocks to fill the box and put pressure on him, and he eventually had a costly intentional-grounding penalty in the fourth quarter.

Think about this: South Carolina gave up an average of 416 passing yards through the first two weeks, but allowed just 191 Saturday. That’s quite an improvement.

“I’ll tell you one thing: When we had to stop them, somehow or another we stopped them,” Spurrier said.

And things just kind of went the Gamecocks’ way in other situations. Georgia kicker Marshall Morgan set an SEC record with 20 consecutive made field goals and then missed two straight, including a 28-yard attempt to tie the game with 4:24 remaining.

As Spurrier replayed the moment in his mind, he couldn't help but briefly pause and look toward the sky while talking about such a historic pair of misses.

“Then their kid -- I guess he hadn’t missed a field goal in two years or something like that, 20 in a row -- and missed two tonight,” Spurrier said. “Sometimes, all you can say is it was our turn to win. We were meant to win this game, and Georgia was not.”

There’s no doubt that South Carolina has to get better, especially on defense. Opponents have converted 23 of 41 of their third downs, and this secondary is still susceptible to big plays. The Gamecocks' pass rush still has a lot of work to do, as well, which could put more pressure on the secondary.

But improvements were made in a game that saved South Carolina’s season.

The Gamecocks still have three opponents on their schedule that are currently ranked -- Missouri, Auburn and Clemson -- and there’s a trip to Gainesville, Florida, in November, but Alabama and LSU aren’t on the slate. The road to Atlanta isn’t open, but it’s not as congested as once thought.

This team will only get better, and we’ll be talking about the Gamecocks more than we thought we would before Saturday’s game.

“We still have all of our goals set,” running back Mike Davis said. “That one loss did not define us as a team.”

SEC morning links

September, 10, 2014
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Everybody’s talking about the Ray Rice incident, and though I don’t plan to share my two cents -- I’ll leave that to the NFL writers -- I thought what South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier told the media Tuesday was very poignant and well said. When asked about Rice and what happened, Spurrier simply said, “if you ever hit a girl, you are not going to play on our team, you are finished.” Spurrier has dismissed two players during his career for the violation of that rule. He went on to say, “I can’t understand why every coach doesn’t have that rule and every company doesn’t have that rule for their employees ... It’s amazing that America has sort of put up with it or compromised. That's just something that should never happen." Credit Spurrier for speaking up and giving his opinion. Watch the video here.

In other news, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops still has no love for the SEC. As his Sooners prepare for Saturday’s matchup with Tennessee, Stoops was asked about the belief that the SEC has better athletes. “I don’t know,” he said. “That hasn’t been the case in our experience. Whenever we’ve played, that hasn’t been much of a difference.” Point taken. Oklahoma most recently beat Alabama in last year’s Sugar Bowl, but Stoops had lost three straight against the SEC before that game. He's 4-4 against the league all time. Monday’s press conference was actually toned down for the Sooners coach, who has been much more vocal about his feelings in the past.

As soon as June Jones resigned from his head coaching position at SMU this week, rumors started circulating around Jake Spavital as a potential replacement. The Texas A&M offensive coordinator addressed the rumors Tuesday, calling it “an honor” to be mentioned, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There’s still a lot of football to be played this season. That got me thinking, though. Who are some of the other young, up-and-coming coordinators in the SEC? I’ve lost count of all the jobs Kirby Smart has been linked to. Both Jeremy Pruitt and Kurt Roper are new to the SEC this year, but it might not be long before they’re both head coaches. And Rhett Lashlee isn’t much different than Spavital -- a bright, young offensive mind.

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ATHENS, Ga. -- The two teams are in very distant corners.

Three hours east, in Columbia, South Carolina, the Gamecocks are reeling after what coach Steve Spurrier described as an “embarrassing” loss at home to Texas A&M, followed by a so-so showing last weekend in a narrow win over heavy underdog East Carolina. Dylan Thompson has been solid in his first year starting at quarterback, but the real Mike Davis hasn’t shown up yet and the defense still seems to be trying to figure out exactly what its identity is.

Here, on the University of Georgia’s campus, the Bulldogs have every reason to feel on top of the world. After beating No. 23 Clemson in primetime to kick off the season, Georgia is a sudden favorite to win the SEC East and represent the conference in the inaugural College Football Playoff. Todd Gurley is a Heisman Trophy front runner, quarterback Hutson Mason is playing with confidence, and Jeremy Pruitt’s young defense is improving with each passing day.

But Mark Richt has seen this play out before. After 13 seasons leading the Bulldogs, the coach knows what to expect when the whistle blows and these two rivals touch gloves on Saturday in Columbia.

“I got a feeling this game could get a little bloody,” Richt said on Tuesday. “I think both teams are tough, physically. ... Before it’s over, it may get down to a bit of a fistfight.”

[+] EnlargeGeorgia Bulldogs
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsHutson Mason says the Bulldogs have found some swagger in the early going.
Whether it was said metaphorically or not, Georgia isn’t resting easy with its No. 6 ranking in both the Associated Press and coaches polls. It’s toughened up and “let [Clemson] kind of fade off into the distance,” according to Richt.

“The coaches did a great job of bringing us back down after that game,” receiver Chris Conley said. “I think it was Coach Richt who said, ‘Thank God for film,’ because that first day we came in and watched the film from Clemson we realized how many holes we had in that game and how many mistakes and how many times we were literally mere feet away from a run not being broken, a touchdown not being scored, momentum not shifting.

“We can’t allow those mistakes to come into a game again.”

There’s simply too much on the line not to be ready for a battle, said Mason, who expects South Carolina to load the box and force him into passing situations.

“We’ve kind of got some confidence and some swagger going into it,” he said. “South Carolina didn’t start off like they wanted to, but they got better in the second game. I don’t expect them to be the same team we all watched and saw playing against Texas A&M. ... They’re understanding more of their identity. Teams like that are dangerous. They’re playing at home, let alone that’s a really tough place to play. One or two things goes their way, as you’ve seen the last couple of years we’ve played there, it’s hard to get the ball turned and going our way.”

Mason said he expects a “big, physical, downhill, tough game” where it’s “may the toughest man win, so to speak.”

“You’re talking about if we win this game on Saturday we have a three-game advantage over them, and if they win they have the head-to-head tiebreaker over us,” he said. “It kind of seems like over the past couple of years that that’s what it’s come down to in the East.”

Linebacker Amarlo Herrera knows exactly what awaits in Columbia. It will be loud, it will be hostile and it won’t be anything for the faint-hearted, he said.

“Everybody in the world knows we’re going to run the ball, and everyone knows South Carolina likes to run the ball,” he said. “It’s going to be a hard-nosed game. Everyone has to come to play and come to hit somebody.”

“That’s my type of game,” he added. “I like to hit people.”

SEC morning links

September, 8, 2014
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After what was a dull weekend around the SEC, we get a bit more spice in the lineup this week. We’re a long way from Saturday, though. Let’s regroup and take a quick look around the league with several days to go before some big games arrive for SEC clubs.

Poll watching: I’d imagine some Alabama fans were a bit perturbed by dropping a spot in Sunday’s new Associated Press poll, from second to third, after dismantling Florida Atlantic on Saturday. It doesn’t matter much, though. Here’s why: teams ranked fifth, seventh, 10thand 14th are also on the Crimson Tide’s schedule. They’ll have more than enough opportunity to prove they deserve a higher ranking before long.

Many national writers have been having a field day lately writing early obituaries for the Big Ten. The weekend was an unmitigated disaster for that league, so that’s obviously fertile column material these days. Meanwhile, the SEC keeps on keeping on, placing four teams in the AP’s top seven (Alabama, Auburn at No. 5, Georgia at No. 6 and Texas A&M at No. 7) and five in the top 10 (LSU comes in at No. 10). Overall, eight SEC teams are in the top 25 (add No. 14 Ole Miss, No. 20 Missouri and No. 24 South Carolina).

The SEC’s lofty poll position only reinforces its spot as the home of the “Haves” in college football – a sport where the class divide between rich and poor seems to grow by the season. However, I never would have expected the Big Ten to languish among the “Have Nots” – not this early in the season, anyway. They usually wait until bowl season to receive that annual reminder.

Points to prove: Jokes aside, this is going to be an enormous weekend for a few of the ranked SEC teams. Specifically South Carolina and Missouri.

If Georgia goes into Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday and wins, not only will the Bulldogs jump into the driver’s seat in the SEC East, they might hand Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks an early knockout blow. South Carolina is already wobbly after a humiliating beating from Texas A&M in the opener, and the effects seemed to linger in Saturday’s 33-23 win against East Carolina. If they fall to 1-2 and 0-2 in league play, it will be time to re-evaluate things. They typically give Georgia all it wants in Columbia, though, so I’m sure Mark Richt doesn’t expect anything to come easily on Saturday. It never does for Georgia at Williams-Brice.

When it comes to Mizzou, I’ll be honest: I’m not impressed with what I’ve seen so far. Seriously, if the Tigers lose to Central Florida this weekend – I doubt that will happen, but UCF was a handful for Penn State in Ireland – I’m going to start wondering whether Mizzou will even become bowl eligble.

That would be an overreaction since Mizzou’s schedule is so weak that a decent non-BCS team would have a shot at getting to six wins. But reasonable Tigers fans can’t love what they’ve seen so far. South Dakota State was down by just three points about five minutes after halftime in the opener. And Toledo had 410 yards of total offense on Saturday, but repeatedly shot itself in the foot after gashing the Missouri defense for huge gains.

Nonetheless, the Tigers closed strong in both games and posted two 20-point wins while breaking in a bunch of new players. I didn’t think last season’s Mizzou team would be able to go the distance, either, and that group certainly proved me wrong. From what I’ve seen of these Tigers, though, they’ve got a lot of improving to do before they’re poll-worthy, much less legit contenders in the SEC East. But like I mentioned earlier with Alabama, Missouri will have the chance to prove where it belongs soon enough – particularly in the three-game stretch that arrives in a couple of weeks where it will visit South Carolina and Florida and host Georgia.

Gator believer: Here’s a team I am on board with, though: Florida. At least to the extent that I believe they’re going to make life interesting in the SEC East.

I’m not sitting in the front seat of the bandwagon yet, but it’s been apparent since Will Muschamp arrived in Gainesville that his teams will field a championship-caliber defense. The trick seemed to be building an offense that a smart-aleck sportswriter couldn’t accurately describe as “bumbling.”

The Gators appear to have at least that, and probably one that is much better than average, judging by its 65-0 win against Eastern Michigan. That defense will indeed be great and Kurt Roper seems to have things rolling with Jeff Driskel and company. The schedule is unforgiving, though, seeing how Florida’s cross-division games are against Alabama and LSU, plus they’ll have to face Florida State at the end of the year. But I’ve already seen enough to believe that Muschamp’s team is going to hang around the Eastern Division race this season – partially because the division is not that great and partially because this team looks to have legitimate firepower on offense, defense and special teams.

A few more links for the morning:

" LSU’s defense has held opponents scoreless for nearly six quarters.

" Auburn defensive tackle Jeff Whitaker continues to deal with an “irritating” knee issue.

" Richt called receivers Justin Scott-Wesley and Malcolm Mitchell doubtful for the South Carolina game.

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Maybe the whole Johnny Manziel phenomenon was a bit overblown.

That’s not to diss Johnny Football. Few players in the SEC have been more entertaining or transcendent. No, it’s more a validation that the other guy rocking the visor, the guy with the “good negotiator” and $5 million salary, knows what he’s doing.

Manziel, Case Keenum, Kenny Hill

It obviously doesn’t matter who’s playing quarterback for Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin. His offenses are going to put up points, and lots of them.

The Aggies left little doubt Thursday night that they’re going to be just fine without Manziel -- especially if they can straighten out some bugs in the secondary -- by slicing through a helpless South Carolina defense in a 52-28 declawing of the No. 9-ranked Gamecocks before a stunned crowd of 82,847 at Williams-Brice Stadium.

“Quite frankly, there was a chip on our shoulder. Basically, nobody gave us a chance in this game,” Sumlin said. “What we did tonight kind of shows that we’re not a one-trick pony. We’re not anywhere near where we want to be, but we’re not going anywhere any time soon.”

It’s hard to know where to start when heaping praise on the Aggies, who had outgained the Gamecocks 142 yards to 1 at one point in the first quarter en route to scoring the most points against South Carolina on its home field in the Steve Spurrier era. The only other time an opponent had hung 50-plus on South Carolina in Williams-Brice with Spurrier on the sideline was when Tim Tebow came to town in 2007 on his Heisman Trophy march.

As fate would have it, Tebow was in the house Thursday as part of the SEC Network’s coverage and witnessed a Heisman Trophy-like performance.

[+] EnlargeKenny Hill
Phil Ellsworth/ESPN ImagesIt took just one game for Texas A&M's Kenny Hill to break Johnny Manziel's school record for most passing yards in a game.
"Give Texas A&M and their coaches and players credit. It was a mismatch tonight," Spurrier said. "I don't know what else you can say. If we played them again, they'd be a three-touchdown favorite. We tried everything we could to slow them down."

Hill, a 6-foot-1, 215-pound sophomore, broke Manziel’s Texas A&M single-game passing record in his first start. He finished 44-of-60 for 511 yards and three touchdowns and was the essence of composure. He spread the ball around, got rid of the ball quickly and leaned on an impressive array of receivers.

And up front, it was a total mismatch. The Aggies’ offensive line manhandled the Gamecocks in rolling up a staggering 99 offensive plays and 680 yards of total offense – the most ever gained against any South Carolina team.

Hill joked that he was more nervous meeting with the media than he ever was on the field.

“I was more excited than nervous,” Hill said. “I was ready to go. I’ve been ready for this my whole life. Everybody was doubting us, and we were just ready to go and prove everybody wrong and that we could be good without Johnny.”

Hill wasn’t quite ready to take on a nickname yet, although he was asked about it.

“I don’t really like Kenny Football. That’s sort of played out,” he said to a round of laughter.

If you’re wondering, Manziel was 23-of-30 for 173 yards and no touchdown passes in his first career start in 2012, a 20-17 home loss to Florida.

“It’s the reason I came to Texas A&M, to replace Johnny,” said Hill, whose record night sent the Gamecocks to their first home loss after 18 consecutive wins.

The Texas A&M players were almost nonchalant about Hill’s performance. They didn’t necessarily see a record performance coming in his debut, but they knew following in Manziel’s footsteps wasn’t too big for him.

“He’s a pocket passer. He’s going to stay in the pocket,” said Texas A&M receiver Malcome Kennedy, who caught 14 passes for 137 yards. “If you stay on your routes, he’s going to put it right there.”

For Sumlin, this was especially sweet, although he did his best to downplay it afterward.

Spurrier, in vintage form, had taken a few shots at the Aggies’ nonconference schedule and how they rolled up a lot of their big numbers against smaller teams last season. He also quipped during the SEC Media Days that Sumlin had a good negotiator after Sumlin received a raise to $5 million annually when the University of Southern California showed interest in him.

The truth is that Spurrier and Sumlin are friends and even went to Ireland together to play golf two summers ago. Spurrier visited the Texas A&M locker room after the game. Even so, Sumlin made it clear that he wasn’t a big fan of some of the things said about his program during the offseason.

“I heard somebody say we made a bunch of yards against the little teams, but we also made a few yards tonight,” Sumlin cracked.

Granted, it was just one game, but he was genuinely peeved that anybody would suggest he and his staff would suddenly forget how to coach just because Manziel was gone. All offseason he was bombarded with questions about life without Manziel.

Sumlin’s public response was that the Aggies had recruited extremely well to a system they believed in. Privately, he couldn’t wait for the opportunity to fleece a few more SEC defenses with a system that has a way of bringing a defense to its knees no matter who’s playing quarterback.

On Thursday, the Gamecocks were on their heels from the Aggies’ first possession and never recovered. Just a thought: Maybe Jadeveon Clowney had a little bigger impact on that South Carolina defense than some people gave him credit for a year ago.

Either way, it’s clear that Texas A&M has recovered much better without its departed star than South Carolina has without its departed star.

Here’s another thought: The entire complexion of the Western Division race all of a sudden looks a little different, and we’re only a game into the season. If you’re going to beat the Aggies, you'd better be able to score.

The same goes for the Eastern Division race. South Carolina has two weeks to shake off this nightmare and find something that works on defense before Georgia visits.

In the meantime, looks like they’re not going to cancel the season in College Station after all.
Kenny Hill, Kyle Allen Icon SMI/USA TODAY SportsQuarterbacks Kenny Hill and Kyle Allen have high expectations to fill in Aggieland.
TGIF: Thank God, it’s football (season). And with the final installment of our Ultimate Season Preview -- what a journey it has been -- we’re wondering who will feel the loss of its QB more in tonight’s SEC Network kickoff: South Carolina (Connor Shaw) or Texas A&M (Johnny Manziel)?

Admittedly, I was leaning at first toward Shaw, the gritty 27-game winner for the Gamecocks. Then I did the “Championship Drive” podcast Wednesday with host extraordinaire Rece Davis and he talked some sense into me. (Thanks, Rece.)

“Let me help you with your story. The answer is Manziel because no team will miss their quarterback, or any player, like A&M will miss Manziel,” Davis said, lecturing me a bit when, really, I needed to be lectured.

He’s right. After all, Davis was on the broadcast team for Manziel’s final college game, when he led the Aggies on one last improbable, heart-racing comeback -- for old time’s sake -- in the 52-48 Chick-fil-A Bowl win over Duke.

Put it this way: I got married that night -- and we still found a way to watch the end of the rally on ESPN3, shivering in the Asheville, North Carolina night as we lit a few stogies. No lie. It was a highlight of the whole evening.

And no offense to Shaw, whom I’ve written about since he was in high school, but I would not have taken a break from the post-reception party to watch the end of his college career. I would have caught the highlights.

Manziel was different from anything I had ever seen on the field. He was magnetic. He was magical. And he was also vitally important to his team, especially given its defensive, um, shortcomings.

The 2013 Aggies scored 42 against Alabama and 41 against Auburn ... and lost both games. The D allowed Duke to score 48, Mississippi State 41, Ole Miss 38 and Arkansas 33, but was bailed out by an offense that averaged 47 points in those four games.

Given this season’s youth and some expulsions, I’m not even sure the 2014 A&M defense will be any better than the group that finished No. 109 in the nation in yards per play (6.4) allowed and 96th in scoring defense (32 ppg).

If Texas A&M is going to again have to outscore opponents, it’s only reasonable to say it will not be able to do that as well with Kenny Hill or Kyle Allen at QB.

“[Coach] Kevin [Sumlin] is going to earn that paycheck,” one SEC rival coach said, referring to Sumlin’s raise in the neighborhood of $5 million.

I see a 4-6 team. The SEC West is that unrelenting. It’ll tussle with Ole Miss for fifth in the division. (But the Aggies would be a contender in the Big 12, for what that’s worth. Just saying.)

Those closest to the A&M program tend to talk more about Allen and 2015 commit Kyler Murray than they do Hill. So that leads me to believe he could be in some trouble when he makes his first start tonight at hostile Williams-Brice Stadium.

SEC morning links

August, 28, 2014
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1. We made it! The college football season is here and SEC play begins tonight. First on the docket this evening is No. 9 South Carolina hosting No. 21 Texas A&M. This game matches two compelling teams, both beginning life without megastars that made lasting imprints on their respective campuses last year. It also pits two dynamic offensive-minded coaches -- the cagey, SEC veteran Steve Spurrier against the relative SEC newcomer but charismatic Kevin Sumlin. How do they stack up? Let's look at the tale of the tape. Both of them had their moments at SEC media days in Hoover, Alabama and Spurrier is known for not having a filter, saying what he thinks at all times. Sumlin doesn't have that reputation, but is beginning to show more and more personality as the years go by (see his responses to Johnny Manziel questions in Hoover as evidence). By the way, if you missed it yesterday, do yourself a favor and read Chris Low's in-depth feature on Spurrier, who is different from many in the profession when it comes to office hours and leisure time. Notably, Sumlin -- a friend of Spurrier's -- is big on family time and the health of his staff also.

2. Next up on the SEC schedule is No. 18 Ole Miss hosting Boise State. Need to get up to speed on the Rebels? Here's an in-depth discussion of the offense and the defense. Interestingly, both head coaches in this game, Ole Miss' Hugh Freeze and Boise State's Bryan Harsin, got their FBS head coaching starts at Arkansas State. Both speak fondly of their time there but acknowledged the difficulty of leaving so soon. The Rebels are one of the handful of SEC programs returning a starting quarterback and there's hope that a big year is ahead for Bo Wallace. The senior himself said he feels a lot more confident than he did at this point a year ago.

3. Finally, tonight's SEC slate concludes with Vanderbilt hosting Temple. New Commodores head coach Derek Mason makes his head coaching debut tonight, doesn't plan to be out in the forefront. Unlike his charismatic predecessor, James Franklin, Mason would rather blend in tonight. Linebacker Kyle Woestmann said "It's definitely centered a lot more around us. It's always player-first. Coming out of the tunnel, he wants it to be us first. Whatever we do, he wants it to be us first." It's also the time for quarterback Patton Robinette to take the wheel. He was named the starter in camp and though Mason acknowledged on Wednesday that it was a close race, he doesn't want Robinette looking over his shoulder and is confident in his signal-caller.

More from around the SEC:
Tweet of the day

For everything Steve Spurrier has done at South Carolina, one thing has escaped the Head Ball Coach’s grasp in Columbia: an SEC championship.

After winning six SEC championships during his 12 years at Florida, including his first in his second year, Spurrier has yet to claim that coveted prize during his nine years as the Gamecocks’ coach.

Spurrier certainly had more to work with right away when he arrived in Gainesville, but chasing an SEC title in Columbia is eating at him.

“He’s one of the most competitive people I know, so yes, he wants that championship,” running backs coach Everette Sands said.

[+] EnlargeSteve Spurrier
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsSteve Spurrier has guided South Carolina to three consecutive 11-win seasons.
Spurrier was asked this summer if he felt unfulfilled without an SEC championship at South Carolina, and he shrugged it off. Spurrier doesn’t feel unsatisfied, but you can tell that an SEC title with a program he has built into a nationally relevant entity is something he craves.

But he’s also proud that he has taken the Gamecocks to new heights. The Gamecocks are coming off their third straight 11-win season and are one of only three teams to finish the past three seasons ranked inside the top 10 in the country. Spurrier’s 77 wins are the most by a coach in school history, and he has a winning record against rivals Clemson, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee, including going 13-3 against them in the past four seasons. South Carolina was also picked by the media to win the SEC Eastern Division this fall.

Spurrier might not have an SEC title on his South Carolina résumé, but the Gamecocks have been a force in the SEC over the last few years. They’ve also owned their home state, going 6-3 against Clemson with five straight wins.

“What I've also learned at South Carolina, our fans realize there's more to life than winning the SEC championship,” Spurrier said. “They really do. We're in a state with Clemson. Clemson used to pretty much own South Carolina in football, no question about it. We have a state championship trophy. If you ask our fans at South Carolina, I can assure you a majority would say, ‘We would rather beat Clemson than win the SEC.’ That is how big it is to them, that one game.

“Personally I'd rather win the SEC. I don't mind saying that. Personally, that's the bigger trophy.”

And his players want the bigger trophy, too.

Redshirt senior defensive tackle J.T. Surratt knows the pain of missing out on an SEC title all too well. Having to watch the SEC championship from home during the Gamecocks' impressive three-year run, Surratt hasn’t had the stomach to complete an entire game. He has started to watch, but he cuts it off halfway through the first quarter each year.

Surratt will turn it back on in the fourth quarter, but not without a sick feeling in his stomach, he said.

“It always feels like we’re one or two games short,” Surratt said of continually missing out on the SEC title game.

“All those 11 wins are great, but 11 wins is still not enough. We’re still not satisfied.”

What gnaws at Surratt and Spurrier even more is the fact the Gamecocks have beaten the eventual SEC East champ the last three years only to, as quarterback Dylan Thompson said, “not get in the stinking game.”

Last year, the Gamecocks upset Missouri on the road in double overtime, but an earlier loss to Tennessee thwarted their SEC title hopes. A year earlier, South Carolina beat East champ Georgia 35-7, only to lose back-to-back games to Florida and LSU. And in 2011, the Gamecocks swept the East but lost to Auburn and Arkansas, sending Georgia to the SEC championship.

That 2010 trip to Atlanta seems so long ago, but Spurrier thinks he has another special group in Columbia. Stars like Jadeveon Clowney and Connor Shaw are gone, but Spurrier has an offense that shouldn’t have trouble scoring with bullish running back Mike Davis, one of the nation’s best offensive lines and an experienced quarterback in Thompson. There are questions on defense, but the linebacker unit is solid and the defensive line is oozing underrated talent.

And with what Spurrier calls a “beautiful schedule,” the Gamecocks could find themselves back in Atlanta this December, nudging the Head Ball Coach another step closer to that elusive title.

“Hopefully we can add an SEC championship,” Spurrier said. “I can assure you, I tell those recruits, ‘If you come here, hopefully you'll be on the firstever SEC championship team ever.’ That's still our goal. We haven't quite done it. I think we've been close, but not close enough.

“We’re probably going to have to upset someone to win the SEC, I know that.”

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