Spurrier walking walk, talking talk with Gamecocks’ gains

Steve Spurrier has always been the main attraction at SEC Media Days, dishing out plenty of dirt to get fans exciting about the impending start of football season.

You remember the classics: “You can’t spell Citrus Bowl without U-T” aimed at SEC East rival Tennessee and referring to instate rival Florida State as “Free Shoes University.”

Those offseason comments meant for boosters’ ears only were the subject of great fodder for reporters looking to Spurrier to fill their notebooks with zingers and one-liners.

Things changed when Spurrier left the penthouse of Florida for the SEC cellar of South Carolina. He toned down his act until his Gamecocks were higher in the pecking order.

Looks like those days are here again. Spurrier uncorked another instant classic on Tuesday: “It’s easier to win a national championship than the SEC. Just ask (Alabama coach) Nick Saban.”

OK, so it’s not a low blow like Spurrier used to deliver at favorite punching bags Phil Fulmer and Bobby Bowden, but it’s a positive sign that he’s not afraid to speak his mind,

The reference to the Crimson Tide’s inability to win the SEC title, or even the SEC West, yet still beat conference champion LSU in the BCS championship game struck a nerve in the heart of Alabama.

But it’s just Steve being Steve. Just as his South Carolina teams have gradually gained confidence in their own abilities, Spurrier’s natural cockiness also has slowly returned.

When Spurrier arrived in Columbia to salvage the scraps of the Lou Holtz era, the goal was simple – beat Florida, Georgia and Tennessee to move into the top tier of the SEC East. No room for the word “almost.”

“A lot has changed at South Carolina in seven years,” Spurrier said. “I’ve got a couple good friends that have been there for 30, 40 years and so forth. One of the guys said, `We used to come to the ballpark hoping for a good game. If we’re playing Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, we were just hoping for a good game, not get blown out. Now we sort of come to the ballpark thinking we’re going to beat those guys. We’re sort of mad if we don’t.’

“I said, `That’s the way you’re supposed to feel, mad or a little upset if you don’t beat them.’ They used to come, if it was a close game, guys jogged off the field, gave them a round of applause, close game. In ’06, we lost a close one to Auburn. They sort of clapped as the guys left the field. So, yeah, I said, `Please don’t do that again. Please don’t clap when you lose a game. There’s no moral victories in any sport.’ So now, yeah, our expectations are high.”

Ironically, South Carolina has cleared the major hurdle of the SEC East. After winning the division title in 2010, the Gamecocks swept the East last season but lost out on the trip to the SEC Championship Game to Georgia because of a pair of losses to the West Division. Now South Carolina must focus on winning the whole league.

Spurrier has even made some comments directed at the Dawgs this offseason, saying he didn’t like the fact that the Georgia game was being moved back in the schedule because the Bulldogs usually had several players serving offseason suspensions in early September. He’s also pointed out that Georgia somehow dodged Alabama and LSU on last year’s and this year’s schedule.

“You think I make the schedule?” Spurrier sarcastically asked a reporter questioning the Gamecocks’ “choice” of open dates. “If I made the schedule, Georgia would be playing LSU and we’d be playing Ole Miss. We don’t make the schedule. We’re not complaining about that.”

Ironically, neither Alabama nor LSU has been South Carolina’s downfall in recent years. The Gamecocks have lost seven games over the past two years and five of them came against Auburn and Arkansas, losing twice in 2010 including the SEC title game.

“Amazingly, we’ve lost seven games in the last two years, and five of them are to Arkansas and Auburn. They’ve had our number. Auburn beat us twice in 2010, championship game. So they’ve had our number. They’ve beaten us pretty good. No, we’re going to worry about Arkansas the week of the game, just like we’re going to worry about Clemson and Florida the week of the game. We don’t talk about stuff like that.”

At least until you start beating them. But if Spurrier’s increasingly loose lips are any indication, the Gamecocks will have even more reason to be cocky this season.

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