COLUMBIA -- One thing has consistently coincided with South Carolina's late-season slides: Steve Spurrier retirement talk.

For the third consecutive November, Spurrier addressed his future. For the third consecutive November, he sounded upbeat about the near future.

"I hope and plan to go three or four more years," Spurrier said Tuesday during his weekly news conference. "Certainly if we're going 6-6 or 7-5 (in three or four years), someone else should certainly have the opportunity to coach."

Even if he had leanings to the contrary, in the meantime, Spurrier was singing a similar song a year ago. He's been more consistent than you might think in his comments about the future.

"I've always said I feel like I've got a good four to five years left in me," Spurrier said on Nov. 19, 2008. "And we are having a pretty good recruiting class, if it all comes together the way it appears to be. Let's give this thing four or five years and see what happens around here, is the way I'm looking at it."

Sounds about the same, right?

That was a couple of days after Florida, on the way to the national title, ripped the Gamecocks 56-6 in Gainesville.

This year, Spurrier is fielding those questions earlier, days before his alma mater comes to Williams-Brice

Stadium as the No. 1 team in the country.

After a 6-2 start, the Gamecocks weren't all that close in losses at Tennessee and Arkansas. No. 1 Florida and No. 24 Clemson visit next, increasing some panic of a 6-6 regular season finish.

Tuesday's comments were extremely similar to the sentiment Spurrier was describing before this season, back in August.

"Hopefully we've got some guys that are really going to help us on the way," he said of the 2010 recruiting class. "We have a good coaching staff here.

"We'll have some guys come that I'm really looking forward to coaching. I'm looking forward to watching Alshon Jeffery, Stephon Gilmore. We've really got some good young guys here that have a chance to have some big-time careers."

Spurrier also indicated there are some players on the Gamecocks' signing day wish list. One is certainly Byrnes High running back Marcus Lattimore, considered one of the best high school runners in the country.

"There are some we're trying to get committed," Spurrier said, "(guys) that we hope and pray they're going to come with us."

Spurrier also vowed Tuesday that his role with the offense would change in the coming weeks.

He'd given Steve Spurrier Jr. the job of primary play-caller the past couple of years.

"I call most of the plays, and I may be the principal play-caller now with suggestions from the other coaches," Spurrier said, referring to Spurrier Jr., quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus and line coach Eric Wolford. "That's about how we've been doing it. ... I'm still very active. I probably do need to get in the huddle every time they come over to the sidelines."

Spurrier said the current system is OK, but his increased involvement would make it "a little cleaner."

"But I can assure you that's not our problem," he said.

In part, he's right. Yes, the Gamecocks (6-4, 3-4 SEC) have scored 12.3 points a game the past four games.

But some of the team's biggest wins in recent years have been engineered by the defense.

Injuries, suspensions and youth have naturally made it more and more difficult to lean on Ellis Johnson's defense. The unit hasn't forced a turnover in three straight games.

"We've struggled here lately. We've struggled. But it hasn't been all offense," Spurrier said. "We played pretty well most of the times (on defense at Arkansas), but they made 10 out of 16 (on third downs). I know our defensive coaches weren't happy -- none of us were happy -- the entire game. So it's a team loss."

A week ago, when asked questions about the team possibly falling apart, Spurrier was defensive and testy. Tuesday, with the Gators up next, Spurrier was engaging, funny and affable, even when facing some rather pointed questions about his future.

"I would say that it hasn't worked out as well as we'd hoped, certainly," Spurrier said of his first four-plus years at USC. "So we're in the process of sort of re-doing it. We've started it this year, with these guys. We didn't have a lot of expectations on our team.

"We're in a good conference. We know it's not easy. But we've got to have exceptional guys that have a commitment to really wanting to be champions. Hopefully we can get that going here in the next two or three years."

Reach Travis Haney at thaney@postandcourier.com and check out the South Carolina blog at www.postandcourier.com/blogs/gamecocks.