COLUMBIA — The shock and utter joy were still fresh Saturday night as Steve Spurrier talked about his team’s stunning comeback outside the visiting locker room at Missouri, but the coach found no trouble understanding the big picture.
Spurrier didn’t break down the SEC East race. His mind wasn’t on extending USC’s weekly streak of being ranked in the Associated Press top 25 poll. No, the Head Ball Coach’s pride came from one milestone many didn’t notice.
The win made the Gamecocks bowl eligible.
“You know, I thought about that. Don’t think I didn’t think about that,” Spurrier said. “We’re happy to be bowl eligible. Six wins is nothing to sneeze about. There’s a lot of teams in our conference that would like to have six wins right now. So, we’ve got six, and we’re bowl eligible and hopefully we can get on a little bit of a roll.”
The years when South Carolina missing a bowl game was more than a possibility almost seem forgotten. Spurrier has made bowl trips an annual part of the football season, changing the culture of USC’s program. The Gamecocks will play their sixth straight bowl game this season. They’ve won their past two bowl games, including last season’s 33-28 win over Michigan in the Outback Bowl.
It’s been another terrific football season in the SEC. The conference’s success has run even deeper in 2013. With at least four games left — some teams still have five games — 12 of the 14 SEC teams are within two wins of bowl eligibility. USC is one of six SEC teams that have already reached a sixth win, the cutoff line for bowl teams.
Within the team, there has been more discussion about the SEC East divisional race than a bowl game, especially in the past couple weeks. Spurrier wanted to wait until his team got to six wins before bowl games were mentioned. In the postgame locker room Saturday night, that line was finally crossed.
“We didn’t talk about it much, but after the game somebody said, ‘Hey, we’re bowl eligible,’” Spurrier said. “I was like, ‘You’re doggone right we’re bowl eligible.’”
It was an injury scare for South Carolina running back Mike Davis, even if the sophomore didn’t want to admit as much after Saturday’s game.
Spurrier said Davis “almost sprained his foot” near the end of USC’s win. The injury’s severity is unknown.
“He’ll be out most of the week, but will hopefully be back by the weekend,” Spurrier said Sunday on his teleconference call.
Davis leads the SEC in rushing yards, even after being held to a season-low 51 at Missouri. His 930 yards this season are eight more than LSU running back Jeremy Hill’s 922. Hill leads the SEC in rushing touchdowns with 12, scoring two last week against Furman while Davis was held without a touchdown for the first game this season.
Davis did extend one impressive streak: his 99 receiving yards gave him 150 yards from scrimmage, the seventh straight game he’s crossed the 130-yard mark for rushing and receiving. Davis leads the SEC with 1,230 yards from scrimmage — 129 yards more than Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans.
After the game, Davis’ foot didn’t prevent him from talking — and toying — with the media.
“What injury?” Davis asked rhetorically when a reporter inquired about his foot. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
The North End Zone
When USC completed its comeback Saturday, Missouri’s loss was just as historic as the Gamecocks’ victory.
Ironically, Missouri kicker Andrew Baggett clanged his 24-yard field goal off the left upright in the north end zone, a plot of field turf synonymous with Mizzou heartbreak. The defeat could rank as high as No. 3 for the Tigers’ lexicon of all-time most painful losses, behind the Fifth Down Game against Colorado in 1990 and the Flea-Kicker against Nebraska in 1997.
Both games featured fluky plays entering the north end zone — just like Baggett’s missed chip-shot field goal. On Sunday, Spurrier said he hadn’t thought about the historical significance for Missouri.
“No, we were not aware of any history of Missouri. Our history ain’t all that pretty either, to tell you the truth,” Spurrier said. “It just worked out. That’s all you can say. Nobody outcoached anybody else. Both teams played hard. Other than that, it was a pretty close game. Could’ve gone either way, as we all know.
“I know sometimes the winner, he’s the smartest, he’s the toughest and all that, but it just came down to those two field goals at the end of the game and a lot of big plays in between.”