COLUMBIA — There will always be a little part of Steve Spurrier that is Duke football.
Who: North Carolina (8-4, 5-3 ACC in 2012) at No. 6 South Carolina (11-2, 6-2 SEC in 2012)
When: Thursday, 6 p.m.
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium (80,250), Columbia
Radio: South Carolina Radio Network (WWIK-FM 98.9 in Charleston)
Line: South Carolina by 10½
Sure, Spurrier played and won a Heisman Trophy and later coached at Florida. He is entering his ninth season as the head coach at South Carolina.
But it was Duke that gave Spurrier his first chance to be a head coach at the collegiate level in 1987. Every year to honor the Blue Devils football team and all the issues that are involved in creating a winning program, the Head Ball Coach puts Duke in his preseason top 25 — usually at No. 25.
Although Spurrier spent just three seasons in Durham, N.C., he considered wins over Duke’s rival — the Blue Devils went 3-0 against the North Carolina under Spurrier — as some of the most memorable of his coaching career.
Spurrier always felt that the Tar Heels were a bit snobby when it came to the rivalry with Duke and looked down their noses at the Blue Devils.
More than two decades removed from his time at Duke, Spurrier still has a little extra fire about him when talking about any game involving North Carolina.
The sixth-ranked Gamecocks will open the season against North Carolina Thursday night at Williams-Brice Stadium on Thursday night on national television.
“I’m a Dukie,” Spurrier said Sunday at his weekly press conference. “I’m a Gator, a Dukie, and now I’m a Gamecoock. For us Dukie’s back then, that was our big game. I doubt if it was for North Carolina because we did not beat them that much, but when I was there we were fortunate enough to actually beat them more than they beat us.
“It was always a fun game when that occurred. But yeah, it is a little special when you are coaching against a team like that, just like coaching against Georgia. The Gators and Georgia were teams that didn’t like each other very much. That’s a special game, too, so anytime you coach against a team that was a little special wherever you coached at, it remains a special game.”
Despite playing 54 times from 1903-1991, the Gamecocks and Tar Heels have faced each other just once since South Carolina joined the SEC in 1992. The Gamecocks beat the Tar Heels, 21-15 in 2007, in Chapel Hill, N.C.
The two teams were supposed to face each other again the following season, but North Carolina opted out of the return game to Columbia in 2008 to play LSU in the Georgia Dome. The two schools had tried in vain to reschedule the game and finally settled on the opener this season.
Since 2007, the Tar Heels have had three head coaches — Butch Davis, Everett Withers and Larry Fedora — while Spurrier has built a top-10 program at South Carolina. Fedora led the Tar Heels to an 8-4 mark a year ago, with three of his losses coming by less than a touchdown.
“Well, we’re a lot better team, and they are probably better also,” Spurrier said. “We’ve got them at home, not up there. We obviously have been a little bit better at home, but still both teams are maybe a little more settled in.
“Their coach is going into his second year. I’m going into No. 9, so I’m as settled in as I’ll ever be. It should be a heck of a game. They are a good team. They lost three games by one point, three points and five points. They easily could have been 10-2, could have been 11-1, I guess, but easily could have been 10-2. If they were 10-2, they’d be in the top 25, maybe top 15 in the country right now.”
Spurrier said that receiver Bruce Ellington, who led the Gamecocks with 600 receiving yards in 2012, practiced on a limited basis over the weekend.
Spurrier expects the former Berkeley High School star to be able to play against the Tar Heels. Tight end Jerell Adams (ankle) should be ready to play as well, but linebacker Cedric Cooper (elbow) and Rory Anderson (hamstring) are not expected to play
“We’ll be pretty healthy,” Spurrier said. “I think most of our guys are getting well. Bruce Ellington was able to run around a bit (Saturday), Busta Anderson is still hobbled, I doubt that he’ll be back by Thursday but we’ll sort of wait and see and play it as it comes around. Jerell Adams should be OK, they tell me.
“I doubt Cedric will play. He hasn’t done much yet, but he was running around yesterday and hopefully within a couple weeks he may be cleared to play. But overall, we’re very healthy going into the first game.”
Place kicker Elliott Fry appears to have won the starting job over Landon Ard, who kicks off, and Nick St. Germain.
“Elliott had another strong day kicking the ball,” Spurrier said.