COLUMBIA — South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has his sights set on bigger things in the Southeastern Conference, even if some Gamecock fans still aren’t sure what to expect.
Spurrier recalled walking by the athletic department’s academic building a couple of weeks back when someone asked, “Hey coach, are we going to have a winning record?”
A winning record, Spurrier thought, “our goals have gone a little past a winning record.”
Now, Spurrier’s locked on to a Southeastern Conference title, something he last achieved in 2000 when coaching at Florida.
The Gamecocks went 11-2 last year, setting the mark for most wins in season history. They looked on track for a second consecutive SEC Eastern Division title after an early 45-42 win at Georgia, but the Bulldogs didn’t lose the rest of the way and edged out the Gamecocks for the trip to the Georgia Dome.
Spurrier, though, was proud his of what his team achieved, notably defeating all five division rivals for the first time in program history.
Spurrier, whose “Fun-n-Gun” offense changed college football at Florida in the 1990s, will again rely on the “ground-and-pound” formula that’s led the Gamecocks to a 20-7 mark the past two seasons.
The ground attack will be led by junior tailback Marcus Lattimore, who says he’s fully recovered from knee-ligament surgery that cost him the team’s final six games. Lattimore was leading the SEC in rushing for much of last year and ran for 818 yards before his injury at Mississippi State.
Lattimore rushed 249 times for 1,197 yards and 17 touchdowns as a freshman. He was well on his way to surpassing all those marks before he was injured.
“Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to be pitching it around the ballpark when you’ve got somebody like Marcus,” Spurrier said.
Another bright spot on offense could be quarterback Connor Shaw, who is entering his first full season as starter. Shaw was thrown into a tough situation last fall after Stephen Garcia was kicked off the team for a failed drug test. Shaw kept things simple, handing off to his backs or taking flight on his own and finished as the team’s second leading rusher.
“Connor is sort of the quarterback every coach would like to have in the fact that he is dedicated in being the best he can,” Spurrier said. “There are no off-the-field issues. His dad is a head high school coach so he has been brought up to play the game the right way.”
The pound of South Carolina’s “ground-and-pound” attack should come from its defense, which finished third in the country behind LSU and Alabama. The group lost a pair of first-round picks in cornerback Stephon Gilmore and defensive lineman Melvin Ingram. It also lost its leader in Ellis Johnson, who left last December to take the head coaching job at Southern Mississippi.
Spurrier believes he’s improved the program since arriving for the 2005 and doesn’t see why the Gamecocks can’t take the next step this fall.
“We’ve sort of built it up. We’ve not had a loser here,” Spurrier said. “We got better players and maybe even a little bit better coaches, too.”