HOOVER, Ala. — Steve Spurrier finally has South Carolina near the top of the Southeastern Conference heap.
He also believes he has the talent to keep the Gamecocks there.
One year after leading South Carolina to an 11-win season and the school’s first postseason top-10 ranking, Spurrier said Tuesday that “we’re getting a little bit of a name out there.”
The 67-year-old Spurrier is entering his eighth season at South Carolina. After five mediocre seasons, he is 20-7 the past two years.
With that success has come some swagger that hasn’t often been associated with the Gamecocks. The program has swept rivals Clemson, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee two years in a row.
“Once you get wins you start to get your confidence back,” South Carolina receiver Ace Sanders said at SEC media days. “Coach Spurrier knows what kind of guys he has. That’s why he’s so confident. That’s why I’m confident. I know I expect big things.”
Spurrier said he expects junior quarterback Connor Shaw to be improved this fall. He also expects star running back Marcus Lattimore to be healthy after a knee injury wiped out the last half of his 2011 season.
Spurrier – a former quarterback – has often clashed with his quarterbacks throughout the years. But he had nothing but praise for the 6-foot-1, 207-pound Shaw, who started nine games last season and led the Gamecocks to an 8-1 record.
Shaw said Spurrier is demanding, but also knows what he’s talking about.
“He’s been there and done that, he’s pretty much a perfectionist,” Shaw said. “You have to have thick skin, but I know that by now, and that’s what you want so that you can get better as a player.”
Lattimore rushed for 818 yards and 10 touchdowns before tearing a ligament in his left knee in a game against Mississippi State on Oct. 15.
“The doctors can do wonderful things now with those knee surgeries,” Spurrier said. “... Feels like (Lattimore) got a good surgery. Marcus rehabbed beautifully, has done everything they asked and probably a little bit more. He should be ready to go.”
The Gamecocks also have a senior-laden defense led by D.J. Swearinger, Shaq Wilson and DeVonte Holloman.
“I think our defense is one of the best in the nation, not just in the SEC,” Swearinger said. “We’ve got to work to earn it though, and we’re working hard in the offseason to try and get in the No. 1 spot this year.”
Now the Gamecocks have their sights set on a chance at the SEC championship. South Carolina advanced to the title game in 2010 before getting hammered by Auburn. Last season, the Gamecocks swept all five of their Eastern Division rivals, but two losses to Western Division foes kept them out of the title game.
Spurrier’s not making any predictions about this season, but it’s obvious he’s confident that the program has reached an elite level.
Spurrier is still mostly known for his great success at Florida during the 1990s, but is intent on making some of those same memories at South Carolina. He feels close.
“We realize we’re not favored like we usually were during those years at Florida,” Spurrier said. “We’ve got some teams ranked ahead of us. That’s OK.”