I’m sure many of you are thinking that it’s too early to be posting about the South Carolina game since the start of the season is still over two weeks away, but two weeks is not too early to start thinking about the start of the season itself and, let’s be honest, our 2010 season really does begin with that game in Columbia. Taking that and several other factors into consideration, I think it is perfectly reasonable to start looking ahead to our matchup against USC, not least of which is that I believe when Georgia and South Carolina faceoff in Williams Brice Stadium on September 11, 2010 it will be the most important game in Gamecock football history and being Dawg fans we need to be well aware of that fact going in there.
I was up last night thinking about the upcoming season, looking down the schedule and trying to get a sense of how we will do, but I kept coming back to the second game on the list. What can be said about the USC game that hasn’t been said here at DawgSports many times? The UGA/USC game is always a classic. It’s a war, a bloody, nasty war, every year. It doesn’t matter if it’s a defensive slugfest or an offensive shootout. It doesn’t matter if it’s Athens or Columbia. It doesn’t even matter who wins. It is always a war. Why? For one, it’s not only the first SEC game of the year for both teams; it’s the first SEC East game for both teams. That game alone may not make a season, but it can certainly put a big damper on one right out of the gate as we all know too well. Lose it and the odds of getting to the SEC Championship Game are pretty slim. It’s also a border rivalry, although I recognize that for most Dawg fans South Carolina does not rise to the level of Auburn, Florida, Tech or Tennessee. For the Gamecock faithful, however, I would imagine that for many of them we are their chief rival after Clemson. I can speak from personal experience when I say that South Carolina gets up for us far more than we get up for them. Another reason the game is such a bloodbath is that, being the first SEC matchup of the season, both teams are still a little green and finding their feet at the same time they’re being called upon to win a game that can define an entire season. That’s real drama and the game itself represents everything I believe is great about SEC football.
As significant as the USC game is year in and year out, the game this year is all the more so, especially for them. Steve Spurrier has been in Columbia for six years now. It’s his team through and through. Say what you will about Spurrier, and there is a lot you could say (I hate the SOB, for instance), but one of those things said about him has to be that he is a competitor. He competes with an all-consuming passion to win. When you look back over his life that is literally all he has ever done. Granted, the Evil Genius has been scarce in recent years. We didn’t see him at Washington and we haven’t seen him at USC either. There have been moments and flashes of the old S.O.S. here and there but for the most part he has been out of sight. This has led some to speculate that Spurrier just isn’t the coach he used to be. Maybe, maybe not. But I absolutely do not believe that Spurrier has lost his desire to win. In fact, I think that desire will be stronger in 2010 than it has ever been. Winning is what Spurrier is all about, and if he is not winning he is looking for a way to win. He would not be at USC one second longer if he did not honestly believe he could win there. This is Steve Spurrier we are talking about here. That desire, that ambition has been frustrated in Columbia, but I believe that has only made it burn white hot. I do not believe he views the USC job as just a last stop on the path to retirement. That’s not Spurrier’s style. But, he also knows that the clock is ticking on his coaching career.
All of that leads to this conclusion: For the South Carolina Gamecocks, and for Steve Spurrier, it’s now or never. The 2010 season will be the most crucial season in Gamecock history, and, at kickoff, the UGA game will be the most important single game in Gamecock history. They MUST win that game. If that sounds like too much, just think about it. This is the best team he has ever had at USC, and these are his players. Florida is down this year. Georgia has major questions on both sides of the ball. Tennessee has a new coach in a rebuilding year. In addition to also having a new coach, Vanderbilt is Vanderbilt. Kentucky is, well, a basketball school. If South Carolina is ever going to play for an SEC Championship, and have a shot at a National Championship, if Steve Spurrier is ever going to be back in the Big Game, where he desperately wants to be, if any of these things are EVER going to happen, it’s got to be THIS YEAR. If not now, when? If not Spurrier, who? Spurrier knows this. The Gamecock players know this. South Carolina fans know this. We should know this too.
That brings me to our team going into this game. I’m excited about the upcoming season, and I believe we are going to exceed expectations this year. However, to be honest, I don’t have a good feeling about this one. It’s early in the season, and I just can’t see Murray being completely comfortable and competent at the position in only his second game behind the center. Add to that the fact that it will be his first SEC game and his first on the road, in Williams Brice, and I can see him making plenty of mistakes. Our new defense and new defensive coordinator will be great. I don’t doubt that one bit, but at this point in the season, in Columbia, I can certainly see it not being quite ready for the big time. There are just too many questions. I don’t think we get blown out but I can see us losing this game fairly easily.
But, and here is the thing that makes me feel a little devilish, just imagine if we did go in there are beat those guys. Not only would it be a great indicator of what our season might be, because of what USC has riding on this game, it would be devastating to the long term prospects of South Carolina football, it would be sweet revenge for 2007 and it would be a real knife in the heart of our old nemesis; Steve Spurrier. In fact, if this USC team doesn’t go the distance this year, I think there is a real chance Spurrier hangs it up for good. Just think about that for a minute; Spurrier gone, and we're the ones who broke him. That alone should get us up for this game, my.assessment of our prospects aside.