When there is a microphone in front of Steve Spurrier all bets are off and no one is safe from his infamous one-liners. During Day 2 of the SEC Media Days the Ol' Ball Coach singled out Arkansas and Tennessee in a contrast of programs against his while also showing that the South Carolina head coach truly has a short memory.
After falling flat on his back side in 2014 with a 7-6 record that followed a preseason AP ranking of No. 9, Spurrier took to the podium on Tuesday to put the Gamecocks’ season into perspective along with two other SEC teams stating, “We were 7-6 — same as Tennessee and the same as Arkansas and I think they’re sort of celebrating big seasons last year.”
Spurrier added, “So we were celebrating also. We were doing some cartwheels and high-fiving after that Independence Bowl game (24-21 win over Miami) because it was a year that could have gone real south, and guys hung in there and somehow or another found a way to win the game.”
Be it old age or the mantra "once a quarterback always a quarterback," thus having a short memory from one play to the next or in this case one season to the next, but Spurrier’s jabs while somewhat accurate do not take his own history into account. Since taking over the helm at South Carolina, Spurrier has as many 7-6 seasons as he does double-digit win seasons, three of each. This distinction does not include a 7-5 season in 2005, going 8-5 in '06, or a 6-6 finish in 2007.
The Gamecocks started the upward trend in 2010, posting a 9-5 mark before reeling off three straight 11-win seasons. Even the 11-win seasons are somewhat tainted from a cartwheel-turning standpoint. In 2011 USC finished 11-2 overall but second in the SEC East behind Georgia, failing to make it to the SEC Championship Game.
When the chips were on the table in 2012 Spurrier again fell short, losing back-to-back SEC games, to No. 9 LSU (23-21) and to No. 3 Florida (44-11). Florida and Georgia finished atop the SEC East with an in-conference record of 7-1. South Carolina finished 6-2. The Gamecocks repeated the same scenario in 2013, losing two SEC games. USC lost to No. 11 Georgia 41-30 and unranked Tennessee 23-21 when the Gamecocks were the 11th-ranked team in the nation.
Another thing missing from South Carolina that is seemingly plaguing the offensive-minded coach is the play of the defense. One can argue that the three 11-win seasons were largely predicated on Ellis Johnson’s recruiting and defensive schemes. Lorenzo Ward took over the coordinator reigns in 2012 when Johnson left for a one-year turn as head coach at Southern Miss. The recruiting and ability to stop the opposition has been suspect and in decline ever since.
Since Arkansas and South Carolina joined the SEC at the same time in 1992 the two programs squared off every year until 2013. During that time period Arkansas enjoyed a 13-9 advantage over the Gamecocks. Since Spurrier took over in Columbia in 2005 he has a losing record against Arkansas, as he is just 4-5 against the SEC West foe.
Traditionally Tennessee has owned South Carolina (24 wins, 7 losses), but even the SEC's one-liner king has had his troubles with the roughed-up Volunteers, going an even 5-5 over the past five seasons. To make matters worse, Tennessee head coach Butch Jones has taken both matchups over Spurrier; 23-21 in 2013 and 45-42 in '14.
The outlook for South Carolina in 2015 is suspect, pushing more towards another 7-6 season instead of 11-2. The Gamecocks have four starters returning on offense and six on defense, a defense that finished ranked No. 92 in the nation in 2014. The same defensive unit that allowed 212.2 rushing yards per game.
The schedule is not kind to Spurrier and his squad this season either. South Carolina opens the season against North Carolina in Charlotte, gets a surging Kentucky team at home, goes on the road to face Georgia, and then hosts an always-dangerous UCF team. After the Knights come to town the Gamecocks travel to Missouri, host LSU and Vanderbilt, and then travel to Texas A&M and Tennessee. The final three games see Florida, the Citadel, and Clemson coming to Columbia.
If Spurrier can manage a record better than 7-6 in 2015, without a proven quarterback under center, the Old Ball Coach just might do cartwheels up and down Williams-Brice Stadium.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManinLA.