STEVE SPURRIER—THE COACH BEST KNOWN FOR BRINGING THE passing game back to the SEC with his Fun 'n' Gun attack at Florida in 1990—bragged like a proud papa this spring about the drive his South Carolina offense closed with last season in its Capital One Bowl win over Nebraska. Did the Gamecocks stretch the field vertically like all those great teams Spurrier coached? Did they close the drive with a fade pass that arced against the sky?
Not even close. The drive consisted of 13 plays. Twelve of those plays were runs. The possession devoured 6 minutes, 25 seconds of clock, and it ended with a three-yard Kenny Miles touchdown run. Spurrier loved every second.
Sure, Spurrier tried to import to South Carolina the offense that made him famous. But as his tenure progressed, he realized the SEC had caught up to the Fun 'n' Gun. In fact, the race to stop Spurrier's offense created many of the ferocious defenses that dominate the league. So instead of clinging to his offense and coaching himself into an early retirement, Spurrier adjusted. Now, the Gameocks rely on a steady running game—with occasional, timely contributions through the air—as well as on their disruptive defense. In short South Carolina plays like an elite SEC team.
Whether this is an elite group depends on how it handles expectations. After setting a school record for wins, the Gamecocks return enough talent to compete for the SEC title. And a team that can compete for the SEC title can compete for the national title. Defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles says the Gamecocks embrace those expectations, declaring that attitude part of "the New Carolina" concept that he gleaned from former Gamecock Melvin Ingram—one of the team's cornerstones last season.
With defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor terrorizing opposing quarterbacks and tailback Marcus Lattimore returning from a knee injury to lead a zone-read-heavy offense, the team's upside may depend on quarterback Connor Shaw. It was Shaw's maturation that allowed Spurrier to make the necessary changes in the offense. "Play-calling is pretty easy," says Spurrier of his shift in philosophy. "You call what you think is going to work." If those plays work in 2012, the Gamecocks could wind up making some very loud national noise.
COACH Steve Spurrier (8th year) 55--35 (29--27 in SEC)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR Steve Spurrier
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR Lorenzo Ward