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November 15, 2010

Spurrier making history at South Carolina

South Carolina's football history isn't necessarily a proud one.

Yes, there has been a Heisman winner -- running back George Rogers, in 1980 -- but there has been just one league title (in the ACC, in 1969) and zero major bowl appearances for a program that played its first game in 1892. Heck, forget major bowls; the Gamecocks have been to only 15 bowls in their history, winning just four of them.

In addition, since joining the SEC in 1992, the Gamecocks have had just four winning records in league play.

But Saturday was a special day for the Gamecocks, who won their first SEC East title by thrashing Florida 36-14 in Gainesville.

It had to be a good feeling for Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier, who led his team to the division title on a field where he became famous, first as a player and then as a coach.

In addition, Spurrier further etched his name into the record books. He guided Duke to the ACC title in 1989, led Florida to six SEC titles and now has led South Carolina to a division crown.

In his postgame news conference, Spurrier admitted that he and his coaching staff had to orchestrate some of the sideline celebration, which included the requisite Gatorade bath for the winning coach.

"We haven't had many championships," Spurrier said. "We had to coach them up a little bit. But we never talked about it until the game was over."

Actually, it was over early. Florida's Andre Debose returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, but that was the Gators' only highlight of the game. The Gamecocks led 15-7 at halftime, then put the game out of reach by scoring on the first possession of the third quarter.

While Spurrier was known for his Fun 'n' Gun passing attack at Florida, his best Gators teams had big-time running attacks. He certainly has a big-time running back with the Gamecocks, and true freshman Marcus Lattimore carried 44 times for 217 yards and three touchdowns Saturday night. Lattimore helped the Gamecocks control the ball for 40:46, their longest time of possession in Spurrier's six seasons.

The Gamecocks also received solid production from sophomore wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who had six catches for 52 yards; five of the six receptions went for first downs.

South Carolina still has two regular-season games remaining, a home game this week against a Troy team that is stumbling down the stretch and the regular-season finale at archrival Clemson on Nov. 27. Then comes the SEC championship game against Auburn in Atlanta, a rematch of a Sept. 25 game that Auburn won 35-27 at home.

The Gamecocks led that one 20-7 on the second quarter and 27-21 in the third quarter before they committed four fourth-quarter turnovers. As with most Auburn opponents, the Gamecocks had all sorts of problems stopping Tigers quarterback Cameron Newton, who ran for 176 yards and three TDs and also threw two TD passes against the Gamecocks.

But worrying about that game can wait a while for the Gamecocks, who still have some celebrating to do. After all, this program hasn't had a lot of chance to do that.

"We're going to Atlanta and that's what we talked about when we first got recruited here," Gamecocks junior quarterback Stephen Garcia said told reporters afterward. "They said we were going to play in Atlanta one day. It took four years, but we're finally here."

It may not be all that long before they're back.

The Gamecocks won the division with a 5-3 mark, the first time ever that a team with three losses won the East. To expect the East to be that much better next season is folly.

Barring every other league team being on probation, Vanderbilt never is going to be a serious challenger in the division. Kentucky has only slightly better odds. Tennessee needs at least two more recruiting classes to get back to where it expects to be. Georgia struggled this season, and is going to lose its best player (wide receiver A.J. Green), the bulk of its starting offensive line and some key defenders. That leaves South Carolina and Florida.

The Gamecocks will return Garcia, Jeffery and -- most important -- Lattimore. Three offensive linemen who dominated the Gators' defensive front Saturday night return next season. While the defensive front seven is going to have to be revamped, all four members of the starting secondary from Saturday night are back. That unit has had issues this season, but a season of experience helps. And as long as coordinator Ellis Johnson is around, the Gamecocks are going to have a solid run defense.

South Carolina's recruiting also is going well. Jeffery and Lattimore are native sons who were recruited nationally (Jeffery initially had committed to USC before deciding to stay home). Ten in-state players started for South Carolina on Saturday night, and the Gamecocks are in the running for six or seven of the state's top 10 players, including four of the top five, in this recruiting cycle. The jewel would be defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, from Rock Hill South Pointe, who is the nation's No. 1 prospect.

In the past, as Garcia pointed out, the Gamecocks were selling the potential of playing for the SEC title. Now the coaches can say, "Hey, we've been there. Come help us get there again."

Plus, South Carolina can point to wins over Florida, Georgia and Tennessee -- the first time ever that the Gamecocks defeated each of that trio in the same season -- as evidence they now can compete annually for the division crown.

As for Florida, coach Urban Meyer told reporters, "We're just not very good."

The offense was a disaster for most of the season, and given the Gators' quarterback situation, it's hard to see all the problems being solved in one offseason. It's also hard to see coordinator Steve Addazio being retained, leaving the new guy to deal with some mismatched quarterbacks.

Junior John Brantley is a horrible fit for the spread option, and the current offense doesn't take advantage of his strength, which is a strong arm. True freshman Trey Burton can run but can't throw. Jordan Reed, who doubles as the starting tight end, also is a powerful runner, but remains raw as a passer; in addition, if Reed wants to play in the NFL, it will be at tight end, not quarterback. The Gators have a commitment from Jeff Driskel, who is the nation's top prep quarterback. Driskel is a legitimate dual-threat guy, but there's no way a true freshman quarterback is going to have immediate success in the SEC. Thus, what is Florida to do?

While Meyer is left pondering that question, the man who built Florida into a national power is celebrating the first football title in a long time at South Carolina.

While at Florida, Spurrier was fond of saying, "God smiled on the Gators" after some noteworthy wins. He trotted that out Saturday night on the field in an interview with ESPN's Holly Rowe, only changing it a bit: "God smiled on the Gamecocks tonight."

There's a chance he may continue to smile for a while.

Simply defenseless
There are some bad defenses in the Big 12, as seven league teams rank worst than 80th in total defense nationally.

The worst, though, belongs to Texas Tech. And Tech, of course, is coached by defense-minded Tommy Tuberville, who has to be going out of his mind to be overseeing a defense this shoddy.

Going bowling
Here's a look at the teams that currently have been to at least 10 consecutive bowls; some of those streaks could come to an end this season. Teams marked by asterisks are bowl-eligible this season:
Florida State*29
Virginia Tech*18
Georgia Tech13
Boston College11
Ohio State*11
Texas Tech10
The Red Raiders are surrendering 451.3 yards per game, which ranks 115th in the nation in total defense. They are 118th in pass defense and 94th in scoring defense.

Saturday, they gave up 562 yards in falling 45-7 at Oklahoma. The Sooners threw for 316 yards and five TDs. It was the sixth time this season Tech had allowed 300 passing yards and the third time they allowed at least four TDs passes. For the season, they have given up 23 TD passes and have just 11 picks.

The loss means Tech -- which is 5-5 overall -- will finish 3-5 in the Big 12, their first-ever losing conference record since the league was formed in 1997.

"That was our last conference game and we go 3-5," Tuberville said. "I thought we had a chance to win four or five if we played well and stayed injury-free."

This will be an important recruiting cycle for Tuberville and his staff. Former coach Mike Leach made Texas Tech nationally relevant with a prolific offense; defense often seemed like an afterthought under Leach, but it didn't matter because of the huge point totals and passing numbers that Tech put up.

Can Tuberville get the kind of defensive players he needs at Tech? It's one thing for a recruit to sign with Texas Tech when it was led by Leach and his mad-scientist offense. Can Tech sign enough good players if it is a run-oriented, defense-first program, which has been Tuberville's modus operandi?

Making history on the Plains
Auburn's Cameron Newton ran for 151 yards and two TDs and threw for another 148 yards and two scores in the Tigers' victory over Georgia. In the process, he became the first SEC player to pass for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in the same season.

It's the 11th time it has happened in FBS history, and Newton is the eighth quarterback to do it. Missouri's Brad Smith, UAB's Joe Webb and Nevada's Colin Kaepernick did it twice each.

Michigan's Denard Robinson is 10 passing yards away and Kaepernick is 54 rushing yards away from also reaching the plateaus this season.

Just calm down, please
Enough already with all the doom and gloom about how Oregon's narrow win at California means that the Ducks aren't national-title worthy.

Evidently, the folks spewing that nonsense aren't well-versed in recent college football history. Last season, Alabama narrowly escaped with wins over Tennessee and Auburn. In 2008, Florida lost to Ole Miss. In '07, LSU lost twice and beat Florida, Auburn and Alabama by a combined 17 points. In '06, Florida lost to Auburn and beat Tennessee, Georgia, Vanderbilt and South Carolina by a combined 15 points.

Heck, look at Auburn this season; the Tigers beat Mississippi State, Clemson, South Carolina and Kentucky by a combined 17 points.

The key is that Auburn has won every game; the same goes for Oregon. Nobody blows out everybody, though that seems to be what everybody expects.

Grid bits
Last week, Penn State outscored Northwestern 28-0 in the second half to rally for a 35-21 victory. Saturday, Penn State was outscored 35-0 in the second half of a 38-14 loss to Ohio State.

Boise State and TCU swapped places in the coaches' poll, with Boise moving to third and TCU dropping to fourth. So what, exactly, was so impressive with Boise's 52-14 win over Idaho? Idaho gave up 844 yards last week in a 63-17 loss to Nevada. Idaho is pitiful. Not so for San Diego State, which TCU beat 40-35. Presumably, Utah's loss to Notre Dame a week after TCU crushed the Utes caused some voters to change their minds. But compare the schedules. Boise's best victory is over Virginia Tech, which trumps any TCU win. But TCU's victories over Air Force, Baylor, SMU, San Diego State and Utah are better than any other Boise win. What's the second-best Boise win? Oregon State (TCU also beat the Beavers)? Hawaii? Toledo? Boise's opponents this season are a combined 33-41; TCU's are 46-43.

With his dad looking on from a suite instead of from the sideline, Colorado's Cody Hawkins threw for 266 yards and three touchdowns as the Buffs pounded Iowa State 34-14. Dan Hawkins was fired last Monday as the Buffs' coach. The loss puts Iowa State in danger of not making the postseason. The Cyclones (5-6) must beat Missouri this week to become bowl-eligible. Iowa State finished with just 229 total yards, including minus-6 on the ground as QBs Austen Arnaud and Jerome Tiller were sacked eight times.

Last week, North Carolina senior QB T.J. Yates threw for a career-high 439 yards and three TDs -- with no interceptions -- in a 37-35 victory at Florida State. Saturday, Yates threw for 197 yards and tied a career-high with four picks -- with no TDs -- in a 26-10 home loss to Virginia Tech.

Wisconsin's 83-point outburst against Indiana on Saturday was the highest point total for any team this season, beating the 76 put up by Navy on East Carolina last week. It also was the Badgers' second 70-point game this season; they beat Austin Peay 70-3 on Sept. 25. That game was the first 70-point game in Wisconsin history.

You can't get much more efficient than BYU WR Luke Ashworth was Saturday. He had four catches for 113 yards -- and each of the receptions went for a TD in a 49-10 rout of Colorado State. Each also came in the first half.

Wake Forest got whipped again Saturday, falling 38-3 to N.C. State. It was the Demon Deacons' eighth consecutive loss, which is their longest losing streak since 1978. Wake's coach that season was John Mackovic, who was in his first year. He guided them to an 8-4 record the next season, then moved on after the 1980 season.

We praised Ron Zook earlier this season. Today, though, we want to take back those kudos. The Illini lost Saturday -- to what had been a one-win Minnesota team. The loss came at home. Illinois is 5-5 and now must win over either Northwestern at Wrigley Field this week or at Fresno State on Dec. 3 to become bowl-eligible. If the Illini don't get to a bowl, it wouldn't be a surprise if Zook is fired.

Washington State snapped a 16-game Pac-10 losing streak by dominating Oregon State in Corvallis; the Cougars won 31-14 and held the Beavers to 261 total yards. Washington State led 14-0 at halftime, the first time they had held a team scoreless in the first half since 2007. Oregon State fell to 4-5 and closes the regular season with games against USC, Stanford and Oregon.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.

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