Spurrier, South Carolina await final SEC chance
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) Steve Spurrier and South Carolina have a final chance to shake off the doubts after a Southeastern Conference season gone terribly wrong.
The Gamecocks (4-5, 2-5 SEC) were preseason favorites to win the East and play for a league title. Instead, they've lost four straight conference games in a season for just the second time in Spurrier's 10 years.
The last opportunity to break the streak comes Saturday at Florida (5-3, 4-3), Spurrier's alma mater and former team that's turned a corner its past two games.
Spurrier said Tuesday he'll look around Ben Hill Griffin Stadium during warmups and reflect on his 1966 Heisman Trophy as Gators quarterback and the 1996 national championship he earned there as coach.
''This is the fifth time I've been on the opposing sideline, so it's not that big a deal anymore,'' he said.
That's where Spurrier's wrong: It's always a big show when the Head Ball Coach returns to The Swamp.
''He has a statue outside of the stadium,'' Florida coach Will Muschamp said.
Spurrier had hoped he would get to bring another championship team down there, too. The Gamecocks have won only once in 14 games at Florida, a 36-14 victory in 2010 that clinched the SEC East for Spurrier at his latest SEC school.
After three consecutive 11-2 seasons - and no division crowns - South Carolina was a runaway pick to end up at the Georgia Dome next month. Instead, it's been a disheartening series of late collapses that have often left Spurrier angry and speechless. After a 45-42 overtime home loss to Tennessee on Nov. 1, Spurrier spent less than a minute at the postgame microphone, not knowing how to sum up a contest where the Gamecocks held a two-touchdown lead with less than five minutes left, yet were beaten.
''The only thing anybody cares about is the `W' and `L' there,'' Spurrier said. ''And we've been on the bad side of a lot of games where we've made a lot of yards.''
There were earlier fourth-quarter meltdowns against Missouri (the Gamecocks were up 20-7 with seven minutes to go before losing 21-20) and Kentucky (the Gamecocks led 38-24 with 12 minutes to go before losing 45-38) that have left the players wondering how it all went so bad.
The task is clear for the Gamecocks: win two of three for the chance to finish .500 and perhaps make a bowl. That didn't happen in 2007 - Spurrier's only other season with four straight SEC losses with the Gamecocks - when South Carolina ended with five consecutive defeats after starting 6-1 and did not make the postseason.
Muschamp understands the losing. The Gators were just 4-8 a year ago and looked headed down a similar path this fall before rallying for victories over Georgia and Vanderbilt the past two weeks. Florida's coach feels bad for Spurrier, whom he considers a friend and supporter.
''I mean, you've got great respect for these guys,'' Muschamp said. ''Sitting behind the chair, you understand what you go through.''
Spurrier said last week his plan is to be back for an 11th season at South Carolina, although he's quit answering more questions about his future. He's already the leader in coaching victories at Florida and South Carolina and stands second to the late Paul ''Bear'' Bryant in overall wins as an SEC coach and in SEC triumphs. Spurrier, who turns 70 next April, said this summer he didn't ''need to hang around'' South Carolina if things turned bad.
Still, Spurrier said his staff has assured him help is on the way with a strong recruiting class. He wishes some of it could arrive in time for Saturday's game.
''It's what it is,'' Spurrier said. ''Got to shake it off, shake it off, come back. That's what we're trying our best to do right now.''