COLUMBIA — South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier let his feelings be known on two related topics Sunday.
First, he announced that the Gamecocks will have no more open football practices.
“Can’t do it anymore,” said Spurrier, who cited autograph seekers and cellphones as the main reasons. “Poor Jadeveon (Clowney) can’t get out on the field without someone getting mad at him.”
And second, he’s grown weary of talking about Clowney.
The Heisman Trophy candidate and All-American defensive end has been the talk of college football since his vicious hit on Michigan’s Vincent Smith propelled the Gamecocks to an Outback Bowl victory.
“He’s tired of it and I think I’m tired of it,” Spurrier said during the team’s annual media day. “It’s time for team.”
Such is life these days for the Gamecocks, who are rated preseason No. 7 by the USA Today coaches poll. Back-to-back seasons of 11 wins, and an appearance in the Southeastern Conference championship game in 2010, have lifted South Carolina to unprecedented heights.
The next step for the team is to win a Southeastern Conference championship and appear in a BCS game. Spurrier, who led Florida to six SEC titles and one national championship, was asked to compare the two programs.
“There’s a lot of difference. Some of those Florida teams would win by a bunch of points,” he said. “This team has learned to win close games the last couple of years, most of them anyway. That’s what we’re going to need to do. But we believe we can play with everyone on the schedule.”
Although he didn’t mention Georgia by name, Spurrier referenced the frustration his team has felt at beating the Bulldogs but not getting to Atlanta the past two seasons.
“Two losses wasn’t good enough to get in the SEC game,” he said. “We’ve been 6-2 and beaten the team that got in the last two years. We’ve got to avoid one of those losses. Maybe 7-1 will be good enough to get you in the championship game.”
The Gamecocks still have their fair share of unanswered questions heading into the season opener Aug. 29 against North Carolina.
Who will replace Marcus Lattimore at tailback? Ditto for receiver and return specialist Ace Sanders. Not to mention losses on the defensive side.
Redshirt sophomores Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds are the leaders in the race to replace Lattimore, Spurrier said.
“We’ll see how it plays out this year. They’re both ready to go,” he said. “Whoever’s making the most yards will play more.”
As for Sanders, who left early for the NFL Draft, Spurrier was less sure.
“Right now we’ve got four or five guys back there catching them,” he said. “We don’t have a proven returner.”
On defense, Spurrier said the Gamecocks are far from being a one-man act. Clowney will get plenty of support from Kelcy Quarles on the front, and cornerbacks Victor Hampton and Jimmy Legree will help offset the loss of Swearinger.
“I told our team the other day I’ve been looking at preseason magazines and the only group that is top 10 in the country is the defensive line, and that’s because of Jadeveon pretty much,” Spurrier said. “Maybe they just think Clowney is the star player and everyone else isn’t quite up to his level. But they are.”
Clowney, who was surrounded by reporters at Sunday’s event, said he is “looking forward to a big season.”
He acknowledged that the demands are strenuous.
“Yeah, yeah,” Clowney said of Spurrier’s comments. “He said ‘JD, why they always ask questions about you?’ I said I have no idea.
“I’m tired of it,” he said. “I’m ready to play, man.”