Fifth in a series of articles previewing SEC football teams going into the 2014 season.
HOOVER, Ala. -- Steve Spurrier has guided South Carolina firmly into SEC East contention in his nine seasons, but there is one key piece missing from his tenure in Columbia, S.C.
The Gamecocks have not won a conference championship, a feat he pulled off six times in 12 seasons at his alma mater Florida from 1990-2001.
South Carolina schedule
Aug. 28; Texas A&M;5 p.m. (SECN)
Sept. 6; East Carolina;6 p.m. (ESPN2)
Sept. 13; Georgia;2:30 p.m. (CBS)
Sept. 20; at Vanderbilt*;—
Sept. 27; Missouri*;—
Oct. 4; at Kentucky*;—
Oct. 18; Furman;—
Oct. 25; at Auburn*;—
Nov. 1; Tennessee*;—
Nov. 15; at Florida*;—
Nov. 22; South Alabama;—
Nov. 29; at Clemson;—
South Carolina glance
LAST SEASON 12-2, 7-1 (1st in SEC West)
COACH Steve Spurrier (41-31 in 10th year at South Carolina, 219-79-2 in 25th year overall)
RETURNING STARTERSOffense 8, defense 6, special teams 2
KEY RETURNING PLAYERS TB Mike Davis, OG A.J. Cann, WR Damiere Byrd, LB Skai Moore, DT J.T. Surratt, QB Dylan Thompson
SEC TITLE SCENARIO South Carolina draws two tough assignments from the SEC West, a season opener against Texas A&M and a game at SEC champion Auburn. Mike Davis will need to carry the running game behind a veteran line, Thompson will have to show consistency, and the defense will need to make significant strides after losing five starters for the Gamecocks to contend.
South Carolina, which won the 2010 SEC East crown then lost to eventual national champion Auburn in the SEC title game, has posted three consecutive 11-victory seasons and five victories in a row over arch rival Clemson, but the big prize still eludes the Gamecocks.
"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," Spurrier said at SEC media days. "Personally, I would rather win the SEC."
The Gamecocks are picked to finish second in the East division by the media, but they are focused on one vision.
"Coach Spurrier is clear on it and we're clear on our goal -- the SEC championship," quarterback Dylan Thompson said.
Spurrier, at 69 the second-oldest coach in the FBS behind Kansas State's Bill Snyder (74), has never hesitated while making honest assessments of his team, and he did the same at media days.
"We got a pretty good team, we think," Spurrier said. "Most of the magazines got us about 9, 10, 11 in the country, something like that. Hopefully we can live up to that prediction."
Winning South Carolina's first SEC title and being part of the first four-team College Football Playoff seem within reach for the program.
"Those are goals that we have a shot at that could happen for the first time in school history," Spurrier said. "As far as the playoff, who knows? Shoot yeah, we would have a chance."
Texas A&M Coach Kevin Sumlin, whose Aggies face the Gamecocks in their season opener Aug. 28, said he sensed a vibe from Spurrier this offseason.
"Like I said the other day, he's been awfully quiet," Sumlin said. "That means he must think they're pretty good. We're going to have our work cut out for us going there the first game."
South Carolina players were asked what has motivated Spurrier to stick around long enough to become the first head coach to work 10 years at two different SEC schools.
"I guess he stayed because we have a chance to do some good things," offensive lineman AJ Cann said. "We've had great teams these past couple of years and he's built it. He knows he's coming close, and he wants to get the job done."
The Gamecocks bring back eight starters on offense and six on defense.
South Carolina's offensive line, with four starters back, could be one of the best of his tenure, Spurrier said, and the group headed by Cann and 6-6, 333-pound tackle Brandon Shell will be blocking for Mike Davis, a 1,183-yard rusher last season.
Thompson has delivered in the spotlight in limited backup duty to Connor Shaw in the past couple of seasons, such as the Gamecocks' 27-17 victory at Clemson in 2012. The fifth-year senior said the wait to become a starter hasn't been easy.
"I'm not going to lie and say it's a walk in the part, but it's been worth it," Thompson said. "Hopefully it will be a lot of fun this year."
Spurrier sounded content about this station of his career after an ill-fated two-year run with the Washington Redskins.
"South Carolina was really the best opportunity I could ever ask for," he said. "It was a school, you could probably describe their football tradition as mediocre. They had a losing record overall, way under .500 in SEC games. Nowhere to go but up.
"But it has been interesting. It's really been a fun nine years. Obviously the last three, four years have been a lot more fun."
Up next: LSU
Sports on 07/19/2014
Print Headline: Focus remains same