GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Three offensive assistants stood around a board in the Florida football offices in the winter of 1978. The quarterbacks coach drew one aerial assault after another -- devil-may-care plays no one would dare run in the ultra-conservative SEC. His name was Steve Spurrier, and he was convinced the offensive innovations in his head would eventually succeed on the field.
The receivers coach, Lee McGriff, chuckled to himself every time Spurrier drew a new play. McGriff didn't scoff at the feasibility of the plays, but he had noticed Spurrier drew all the plays without linemen. The third assistant, offensive line coach Kim Helton, could barely contain his contempt. "I know this is not OK with Kim Helton," said McGriff, now the analyst for Florida football's radio broadcasts. "I'm watching him out of the corner of my eye, and there's a storm starting to brew inside him."
Finally, Helton could take no more.
"Coach?" McGriff remembered Helton asking a colleague he would never call "Coach" under normal circumstances. "Do you think you might need some linemen to make this play work?" Spurrier, sensing an opportunity to gig his colleague, fired back. "Kim," McGriff remembered Spurrier saying, "we just need y'all to get in the way."
Helton strode to the board and drew offensive and defensive lines. He then drew a defensive stunt that could not possibly be blocked by an offense with five receivers in the pattern. "How are you going to block that?" McGriff remembered Helton asking.
Spurrier considered the conundrum. Then he spoke. "Well," McGriff remembered Spurrier squawking. "It'll be one for them."
One for them.
Coaches spend sleepless nights trying to keep opponents from getting one for them. Not Spurrier. He knows you will get a few, and he'll probably get more. He knows there is likely a call you can make that will throw his offense for a 10-yard loss under certain circumstances. He also knows what happens when you don't make that call. "If you don't do that," McGriff said, "he has just fried you."
Spurrier comes back to Gainesville Saturday, and he brings with him a South Carolina team that can stop his alma mater's recent renaissance cold. He will come to a stadium usually referred to by a name he coined, a stadium that has a statue of Spurrier's 21-year-old self on its west side and his name in a ring of honor on its north side. The home crowd will cheer against him because he stands between the Gators and the SEC East title, but those in the stands won't jeer him too hard. After all, Spurrier the player was a beloved Gator, and Spurrier the coach was Florida's Bud, Bear, Woody or Bo. Those plays that lived inside his head in the winter of 1978 revolutionized the way offense is played in college football, and they brought six SEC titles and a national title to a school that had won nothing for 85 years. (The SEC title in 1984 was stripped the following spring because of numerous NCAA violations, and Spurrier's 1990 team wasn't allowed to claim a title because of violations during the Galen Hall era.) Even though Urban Meyer coached Florida to twice as many national titles, they will never love Meyer the way they love Spurrier, who still often says "we" when referring to Florida even though a divisional rivalry makes the Gators a definite "they."
"Florida is always going to be my school," Spurrier said this week. "I love Florida. ... We're Gators, but we're Gamecocks now. When my coaching days are over, I'll be more of a Gator then. But I'm a Gamecock now."
As fruitful as Spurrier's tenure was at Florida, a win Saturday would provide further evidence that he has done an even better job at South Carolina than he did at Florida. At Florida, Spurrier took those innovations that percolated in his head, added the phenomenal athletes that grow like oranges in the Sunshine State and lifted a program that was always justthisclose to an elite level. At South Carolina, Spurrier has taken a program that was never close and made it a contender in America's most rugged conference. And he didn't do it with the Fun 'n' Gun. He completely reinvented his offense to win in a league where the ferocious defenses sprang from the minds of men who dedicated their sleepless nights to stopping his offense. "There's all kinds of ways to win the game," Spurrier said. Then he said something that would make Kim Helton smile. "The best one is to play outstanding defense, special teams and run the ball," Spurrier said. "There have been a lot of champions that ran the ball."
Spurrier said Thursday that South Carolina star tailback Marcus Lattimore will not start Saturday because of a bruised hip. In Gainesville, this pronouncement was met with a healthy dose of skepticism. Here, better than anywhere else, they know about the Head Ball Coach's mind games during the days leading up to a big game.
No doubt Florida coach Will Muschamp, whose six-year-old self may have been playing football in his yard less than a mile from Florida Field when Spurrier heckled Helton, has prepared his defense as if Lattimore will carry his usual load. The South Carolina offense, which uses Lattimore and quarterback Connor Shaw on zone read runs to set up high-percentage passes for Shaw, is more complete than the LSU offense Florida stoned two weeks ago. Florida rammed the ball down LSU's throat, but only because the Gators trailed by just six points in the third quarter. If the Gators must pass, that's when South Carolina defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor will feast. But if Muschamp and coordinator Dan Quinn's defense can limit the Gamecocks' appearances in the end zone, Florida can run all night with tailback Mike Gillislee and quarterback Jeff Driskel.
Go back to the mid-'90s and tell someone that a Spurrier-coached game in The Swamp with the SEC East hanging in the balance will feature two teams grinding on the ground and trying to create turnovers, and that person will wonder what sort of mad dystopia we inhabit in 2012. But it will be beautiful in its own way. Muschamp will try to push the Gators back to the standard Spurrier set. Spurrier will try to foil his alma mater and continue revising the standard at South Carolina.
Besides, he may prefer to run now, but Spurrier hasn't changed in any other way. "I certainly hope the Gators finish second in the East this year," he cracked. "That would be a good finish for them."
Saturday, Spurrier, who spent so many years making Florida finish first, will work to make the Gators finish second. If he can, his legend at South Carolina will grow. If he can't, it'll be one for them.
• LSU at Texas A&M: This might be the best noon SEC game in years. I was wrong about how quickly the Aggies would make themselves competitive in the SEC. I thought it would take a few years, but that isn't the case. Now the question is how quickly the Aggies can be competitive at an elite level. The next four Saturdays -- which include games against LSU, currently undefeated Mississippi State and Alabama -- will answer that question. LSU bounced back against South Carolina last week, but A&M will be the most potent offense the Tigers have faced. If LSU's offense doesn't surpass the Tigers' 13.7 scoring average in SEC play, LSU's Nov. 3 matchup with Alabama suddenly won't mean so much.
• Rutgers at Temple: The Big East booted Temple for its poor play on the football field, then came crawling back when the league needed a program to immediately replace West Virginia. Now the Owls are trying to prove they belong. They've beaten South Florida and Connecticut and sit atop the league alongside undefeated Rutgers, Louisville and Cincinnati. But barring a major anomaly, Temple isn't going to have the firepower to compete with the Scarlet Knights, which rank second in the nation in rushing defense (60.8 yards a game), third in scoring defense (11.5 points a game) and first in turnover margin (plus-2.17 a game).
• Virginia Tech at Clemson: The Tigers can cling to a slim hope that Florida State will lose another ACC game and allow them back into the Atlantic Division race. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech is tied in the loss column with two other postseason-eligible teams in the Coastal Division. (North Carolina, which beat the Hokies, is ineligible because of NCAA sanctions.) Both these teams need this win badly, which should make this one fun.
• Purdue at Ohio State: Purdue has looked bad the past two weeks, getting pounded at home by Michigan and Wisconsin. On paper, a trip to Columbus shouldn't be easier, but anyone who saw the Ohio State defense at the end of the Indiana game knows Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer had a reason to be nervous this week. It appears converted fullback Zach Boren, who led Ohio State with eight tackles against Indiana, will stay at linebacker. Defensive end Nathan Williams, who missed the Indiana game with a concussion, might also play some linebacker thanks to strong play at the hybrid Leo position by freshman Noah Spence. How did Ohio State get so thin at linebacker? Ted Glover at Land-Grant Holy Land breaks it down, and it isn't pretty.
• Auburn at Vanderbilt: Vanderbilt came into the season with high expectations, but the state of the SEC East was such that the Commodores could get better and come out with a worse record. Still, bowl eligibility is not out of the question for the 2-4 Commodores, whose first-half schedule was much, much tougher than their second-half slate. Vandy is going to beat UMass Oct. 27. That leaves three more wins. Kentucky and Wake Forest are possibilities. Tennessee and Ole Miss present more of a challenge. The road gets much easier, though, if Vandy can beat Auburn in Nashville. Meanwhile, the Tigers are desperate. If Auburn, which doesn't play Kentucky, can't beat Vandy, then the Tigers might fulfill former coach Pat Dye's prediction and lose every SEC game this year.
• BYU at Notre Dame: Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson, who left the Stanford game with a concussion, remains a question mark for the BYU game. Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly said Thursday that he won't name a starter until Saturday. Golson was cleared to return to practice Wednesday. The likely choice if Golson can't play is Tommy Rees, who replaced Golson against Stanford and led the Irish to an overtime win, but Kelly also praised third-teamer Andrew Hendrix.
• Texas Tech at TCU: A Big 12 matchup between two teams that actually try to play -- gasp -- defense? OK, that was probably an unfair bit of stereotyping. Kansas State and Oklahoma played one another a few weeks ago, and both play excellent defense. At any rate, this was to be expected once Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville got his Big 12 sea legs. He is, after all, a defensive guy. Ditto for TCU coach Gary Patterson. Texas Tech's defense has improved dramatically under first-year coordinator Art Kaufman. Earlier this season, Tuberville told SI.com to expect a better defense simply because the Red Raiders finally had some depth. The Horned Frogs, meanwhile, are their usual stingy selves. Defensive end Stansly Maponga (foot) is a game-time decision, but freshman Devonte Fields (6.5 sacks, 11.5 tackles for loss) is ready to go.
• Michigan State at Michigan: Where's the threat? We're about to find out. Michigan State has won four in a row in this series, but the Spartans have looked horrendous on offense in recent weeks. Meanwhile, Michigan has bounced back from losses to Alabama and Notre Dame and seems to be hitting its stride. This always seems like a bad matchup for Michigan in the Denard Robinson era. The Spartans are faster than most Big Ten teams on defense, and they usually hit Robinson very, very hard. But if Michigan State can't move the ball, Robinson should be able to ding the Spartans defense for enough to break the losing streak.
• Alabama at Tennessee: I got an e-mail Thursday advertising that a limited number of student tickets were returned for this game. Those tickets, once returned, went on sale to the general public (read: Alabama fans). Tennessee is playing the No. 1 team in the country, and the students can't even bear to watch the carnage. This is a sad commentary on a once-proud football program.
• Baylor at Texas: Someone has to stop someone, right? One of the most thoughtful pieces written after Texas imploded against Oklahoma last week was this essay from Scipio Tex at Barking Carnival. It called for the end of the Mack Brown era, but it didn't do so in a raw, emotional, hateful fashion. It is a reasoned analysis of the current state of the program. That's all. Now, if the Longhorns lose to Baylor for a third consecutive year, all that reason and politeness may get tossed out the window.
"They draft. We recruit. And they get the first 25 picks of the draft."
-- Tennessee coach Derek Dooley on Alabama during his Monday press conference
It seems a little wrong that we're talking about the Cal-Stanford game in October, but television executives want what they want. At least you get to read this excellent oral history of The Play, which turns 30 this year. The writer is SI's own Kelli Anderson, who just so happened to be an alto sax player in the Stanford band in 1982.
I'm always a sucker for the moment when a walk-on receives a hard-earned scholarship, but UMass coach Charley Molnar deserves extra credit for first terrifying defensive end Daniel Maynes and linebacker Rob O'Connor by having a pair of cops deliver their scholarship papers in ominous-looking envelopes.
Imagine you've hit it big in Hollywood -- maybe on a network sitcom, maybe on a cable drama. Then imagine a company gives you a blank check to film a passion project. Adam Scott from Parks and Recreation and Jon Hamm from Mad Men spent that money the way any right-thinking man of a certain age would: They filmed a shot-for-shot remake of the Simon & Simon opening title sequence.
This got me thinking about the best title sequences in television history. (For those under 25, TV shows used to have theme songs that introduced the shows and identified the actors. I know it sounds weird, but trust me, it was awesome.) Sure, there were some memorable sitcom theme songs. I still know all the lyrics to the Cheers theme and the Golden Girls theme, and I know where all the finger snaps go in the Night Court theme. But the truly great title sequences all came from a certain brand of hour-long '80s action series. Dramatic music played. Stuff blew up. Cigars were occasionally smoked.
5. The Fall Guy: Lee Majors sings. Version 1.0 supermodels are name-checked. Lessons are learned. When you wind up in the hay, it's only hay. (Hey, hey.)
4. Simon & Simon: The hand that bursts from behind the door to coldcock Major Dad gets me every single time.
3. Magnum, P.I.: Shockingly, the greatest show ever produced only had the third-best title sequence.
2. Airwolf: Rest in peace, Ernest Borgnine.
1. The A-Team: The gold standard of television title sequences. This is what happens when a plan comes together.
Those in Fort Worth for Texas Tech-TCU should go to The Woodshed. No, this isn't a prediction for the game. The Woodshed Smokehouse is an upscale barbecue joint located just outside TCU's campus. Before you go, check the website. You can watch a live feed of the Animal of the Day as it turns on a spit.