Spurrier, Gamecocks taking aim at title

Over the past three seasons, South Carolina has won more games than anybody in the SEC, with the exception of two teams.

Alabama and LSU.

That’s not shabby company.

The Gamecocks have won 11 games each of the past two seasons. The only other SEC team that can claim that distinction is two-time defending national champion Alabama.

Again, some mighty fine company the Gamecocks are keeping.

But if you think Steve Spurrier and his South Carolina players are content with what’s been a historic run for a program that once seemed doomed for eternal mediocrity, think again.

The last few seasons have only reinforced Spurrier’s belief that the Gamecocks can indeed win an SEC championship.

“That’s still the goal. We believe we can win an SEC championship here. That hasn’t changed,” said Spurrier, whose Gamecocks opened spring practice last week.

“We’re 25-3 here at home. We’ve only lost three the last four years here. We’ve had a good run at home, but we haven’t won that SEC yet. We want to win one of those. We’ve done a lot of firsts, as you know, but we haven’t done what we came here to do.”

Some might argue that Spurrier has done exactly that with the way he’s transformed South Carolina into one of the SEC’s elite teams. Before his arrival in 2005, the Gamecocks had won more than eight games in a season only twice in school history and were a combined 5-34 in SEC games against Eastern Division rivals Florida, Georgia and Tennessee.

Compare that drought to the past three seasons.

South Carolina has won at least nine games each year and is a combined 8-1 against Florida, Georgia and Tennessee. The Gamecocks have also won four in a row over bitter in-state rival Clemson for the first time in more than 50 years.

But anybody who really knows the Head Ball Coach knows he’s about winning championships. He won six of them (SEC titles) at Florida.

“The best thing about playing for Coach Spurrier is that he’s exactly what I want to be,” said junior quarterback Dylan Thompson, who’s working with the first team this spring while senior Connor Shaw is recovering from offseason foot surgery.

“He demands perfection and isn’t going to stop until he gets what he wants. It’s awesome to play for somebody like that. He’s never going to be satisfied. I love it when we have a good game and he comes out that next practice and is on us even harder.

“He never lets you be pleased with what you’ve already done.”

Spurrier, who will be 68 next month, is entering his ninth season at South Carolina. You could have won a lot of bets back in 2005 that he wouldn't still be coaching football.

He’s admitted that age 66 was about as long he wanted to go when he took the South Carolina job.

But ask him now much longer he wants to go, and his answer is the same as it’s been the past few years.

“I tell people that I still have three or four years in me,” he said. “I’ll probably say the same three or four years from now.”

The translation: As long as the Gamecocks are contending for Eastern Division titles, Spurrier isn’t going anywhere.

They should be right in the mix again in 2013. There’s not a more dynamic defensive player in college football than junior defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, and his supporting cast up front will again make South Carolina as good as anybody in the SEC in the defensive line.

“We’ve leaned pretty hard on our defense around here the last few years, but there’s a lot of ways to win football games,” Spurrier said. “We also feel like we’ll be able to branch out and do a few different things on offense. Our quarterbacks are both unselfish, and they’ve both won big games for us.”

Thompson came up big for the Gamecocks in the 27-17 win over Clemson last season and then stepped in for the injured Shaw again in the Outback Bowl and threw the game-winning touchdown pass against Michigan.

“My job and everybody’s job on this team is to be ready when your number is called,” said Thompson, who threw three touchdown passes in the win over Clemson. “It doesn’t matter if you were a starter or not or whether you began the season as a starter. That’s the mentality of our team, and I think a big component of that was the leadership the guys before us like Marcus [Lattimore] and Alshon [Jeffery] showed.

“At the end of the day, you’re accountable to the team.”

The schedule tilts a little more favorably in South Carolina’s direction in 2013. The Gamecocks had to play Georgia, LSU and Florida in successive weeks a year ago. They beat the Bulldogs for the third straight season, but lost on the road at LSU and Florida.

Next season, a home game with Mississippi State replaces the trip to LSU.

“We’ve seen that we can beat the best teams in this league and lose to teams we shouldn’t lose to,” Thompson said. “Consistency’s going to be huge for us. There’s a toughness that it takes to play one week at a time in this league.

“That’s the way you win an SEC championship, and that’s definitely our goal for this coming season.”