Philadelphia, PA – When Steve Spurrier jumped back into the college ranks in 2005 was there anyone out there who thought he would fail?
Sure, his short stint in the NFL with the Washington Redskins was fairly unmemorable in terms of success, but the college game is where Spurrier belongs. It is tailor-made for the Ol' Ball Coach and vice versa.
The 1966 Heisman Trophy winning quarterback for the Florida Gators, Spurrier got his first collegiate head coaching gig at Duke, leading the Blue Devils to the 1989 ACC championship. He was named the ACC Coach of the Year in both 1988 and 1989.
Let that sink in for a second...Duke was relevant in the sport of football under Spurrier.
He used the successful run in Durham as a springboard to return to his alma mater in 1990. In 12 seasons in Gainesville, Spurrier's teams won seven SEC titles, ranked in the top-10 nine times and won a national title (1996 season). Spurrier finished up his tenure at Florida with an astounding record of 122-27-1, winning 81.7 percent of his games.
Now in his eighth season in Columbia, Spurrier has done the ground work that started paying off in 2011 and has certainly carried over to this season.
Still, Spurrier takes nothing for granted.
"I've been fortunate to be here. I do say 'fortunate' to be able to coach in the SEC. This is the 20th year. I feel fortunate to be here," said Spurrier at this year's SEC media event.
"We've had some good teams at South Carolina the last couple years. That is probably why I'm coaching. Our teams are getting better. We are recruiting better guys, and have an excellent group of assistant coaches, our athletic directors and boosters have built up the facilities up to the best in the conference and we are able to recruit outstanding players. We've still not won the SEC. That's our ultimate goal. We know it's not going to be easy. It will be extremely difficult. But that's our goal. That's what we're shooting for."
Spurrier made an immediate impact in Columbia, leading USC to a 7-5 record in his debut. The team finished second in the SEC-East that year, while Spurrier was tabbed the SEC Coach of the Year. It was more of the same in 2006, when South Carolina upped its win total to eight games and a win over Houston in the Liberty Bowl. It was a tale of two seasons in 2007. After racing out of the gate with six wins in the first seven games, South Carolina faltered in the second half and finished at just 6-6. Identical 7-6 records followed in 2008 and 2009, before South Carolina stepped up in 2010 with nine wins, including its first-ever victory over a top-ranked team, beating Alabama. Still, perhaps not ready to make the monumental leap, South Carolina fell victim to the Auburn Tigers and Cam Newton in the SEC Championship Game, losing a lopsided affair (56-17).
However, no longer satisfied with just being good, 2011 was a record-setting season in Columbia, as the Gamecocks won a school-record 11 games, capped off by a blowout of Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl (30-13).
This season is shaping up as an encore performance, thanks to wins in each of the first six games. Most impressive among them was last weekend's rout of then fifth-ranked Georgia. With the lopsided victory over the Bulldogs and losses by teams in front of them in the polls, the Gamecocks have now moved up to No. 3, their highest ranking since 1984.
Unlike the "Fun 'n Gun" days in Gainesville, Spurrier has changed things up in Columbia. The recipe for success is simple. South Carolina is getting it done with a bell cow in the backfield and stingy, aggressive defensive play.
Junior tailback Marcus Lattimore is a nightmare for opposing defenses and is the complete package, with great size, field vision, instincts and acceleration. Returning from a knee injury that cost him half of his sophomore season, Lattimore is starting to heat up, not good news for the rest of the SEC. He is averaging 4.7 yards per carry this year, amassing 549 yards and nine touchdowns through the first six games.
The defense does the rest and has been dominant at times, showing equal disdain for the run (83.9 ypg) and the pass (194.2 ypg). South Carolina completely shutdown a strong Georgia offense and is now allowing a mere 10.5 ppg, ranking fourth in the nation. The team has really made things difficult on opposing quarterbacks with 25 sacks through six games.
The difference-maker on the defensive side of the ball is sophomore end Jadeveon Clowney. The 6-foot-6 youngster has 25 tackles this season, with 11.5 coming behind the line of scrimmage, including a team-high 6.5 sacks. The 2011 SEC Defensive Freshman of the Year is just scratching the surface of his enormous talent and may not be staying much longer in Columbia, as the NFL is certainly beckoning.
Getting back to the basics is what seems to be working in Columbia these days, and in an era where throwing the football around the field is considered the norm, South Carolina's formula for success this year may be considered old-school and "thinking outside of the box."
Would you expect anything else from a guy known as the Ol' Ball Coach?