It is a rare football season indeed when everybody around here is talking trash after the bowl games.
While the fan bases of Georgia and Georgia Tech are busy trashing their respective coaching staffs, the coaches at South Carolina and Clemson launched a little garbage talk at each other.
Steve Spurrier and Dabo Swinney each have a lot to crow about after superlative 11-win seasons capped by dramatic victories over Big Ten teams in bowls. But the two world-class talkers were clearly on each other’s mind while accepting their postseason spoils after hard-fought victories.
“Two Capital One bowls in a row are pretty nice,” said a strangely animated Spurrier after the Gamecocks’ 34-24 win over Wisconsin on New Year’s Day. “But that state championship ain’t bad either.”
Two nights later, Swinney fired back after the Tigers’ tense 40-35 win over Ohio State in the Orange Bowl.
“We are the first team from the state of South Carolina to ever win a BCS game,” Swinney bellowed. “Right here!”
Both the Gamecocks and Tigers have a lot to be proud about after their 2013 campaigns. Clemson indeed got invited to a more glamorous bowl game, though that is largely an indictment on the lack of depth in the Atlantic Coast Conference than it was being more worthy than its in-state rival. The distinction was more semantic than indicative of any superiority considering the Gamecocks are higher ranked.
South Carolina will gladly keep its lesser marquee bowl trip to Orlando, Fla., and the five successive victories over the Tigers in the annual rivalry game. It’s the bigger thing to boast about, even if the podium during the Capital One bowl trophy presentation a month later was an odd place to bring it up.
As silly as it all was to watch, Spurrier and Swinney were voicing well-deserved excitement about two programs near the peak of their potential. When leaner years are certain to come, everyone can look back at this as a pinnacle era in Palmetto State football history. In the past three seasons, the pro-grams have combined for 65 victories and been fixtures in the top ranks of the polls. Heady stuff.
Spurrier has made the Gamecocks a reckoning force in the Southeastern Conference despite not earning a conference title yet and Clemson has built itself into a legitimate contender in the rebuilding ACC.
“We’re not the national champion yet, but we’ve built our brand back nationally,” Swinney said before the statement win in the Orange Bowl.
We’ll see how both programs fare without some of the best talent they’ve ever had. Both lose standout senior quarterbacks to graduation in Connor Shaw and Tajh Boyd. Both will miss early NFL defectors in Jadeveon Clowney and likely Sammy Watkins – stars who figure to be top-10 draft selections.
But the coaches are firmly entrenched to continue lobbing verbal grenades at each other in a never-ending state of one-upsmanship.
Moods are considerably cooler on the Peach State side of the Savannah River.
Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson is already having to address rumors about his job status after a meager 7-6 campaign that included his fifth bowl loss and Georgia defeat in six opportunities at each at the helm.
“The rumors on social media are not true,” Johnson said in a statement this week. “I plan on being the head coach at Georgia Tech into the future. I look forward to finishing up recruiting and getting ready for the 2014 season.”
Doesn’t help that Johnson’s STARTING quarterback, Vad Lee, has defected after failing to live up to his promise in Johnson’s triple-option system.
The reason Johnson will stick around isn’t entirely because director of athletics Mike Bobinski believes in the coach he didn’t hire. The Yellow Jackets are among the more cash-poor athletics programs, with weak attendance in the top revenue producing sports not helping the bottom line. After costly buyouts to both Johnson’s predecessor Chan Gailey and former basketball coach Paul Hewitt totaled more than $11 million, there’s not really enough coin in the sofa cushions to pony up the nearly $8 million it would cost to jettison Johnson now.
But there is no doubt that the seat will be toasty in 2014 if Johnson’s Jackets don’t show marked improvement from the current middling stagnation that has existed. Perhaps he’s the guy Georgia Southern should be trying to bring back and lead it into Division I-A.
Georgia’s Mark Richt shouldn’t have to listen to all the same garbage even after a season that held such promise finished a disappointing 8-5 after an uninspired loss to an average Nebraska team in the Gator Bowl. But irrational fans seem quick to judge despite all of the mitigating circumstances that cost the Bulldogs dearly.
One passionate reader even suggested (again) that Richt should be gone, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo should get a police escort to Georgia Southern and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham should simply be put down.
While a simple firing (instead of firing squad) would seem more in order for Grantham after an irredeemable season failing to stop other offenses, the venom toward Richt and Bobo remains sheer lunacy. Most of these fire-the-coach fans are the same ones who were certain that Will Muschamp was going to be the answer years ago. How’s that working out for Florida?
No doubt Richt and Co. will be under tighter scrutiny next season, and the Bulldogs will need better performances from new quarterback Hutson Mason and the entire defense to avoid getting buried under the criticism or the burgeoning bravado of both South Carolina neighbors.
These bowl results won’t mean anything come fall, but they’ve left us with plenty to talk about in the interim.