COLUMBIA -- A year ago, South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier, dispirited by the bowl performance, might have avoided the media altogether. He did not mind assembling reporters Friday, though, to talk about the future of a team that won the SEC East in 2010 and figures to be the favorite in 2011.
"We thought it was a good year," Spurrier said, "but not a great year."
It was good because the Gamecocks reached the SEC title game for the first time. It was not great because Auburn, the eventual national champion, blistered South Carolina in that game.
It was good because the Gamecocks played a 9-4 Florida State team in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, USC's first appearance in that bowl since 1969. It was not great because South Carolina, despite a third quarter comeback, lost 26-17 to the Seminoles.
South Carolina had two shots to tie the school record of 10 wins, set in 1984.
For a change, it's the defense getting more of the offseason attention than the offense. The Gamecocks scored nearly two touchdowns more a game in 2010, and, with freshman Marcus
Lattimore, they finally had a definitive threat in the running game.
As expected, Spurrier shifted the responsibilities of several coaches on the staff, with most of the changes made to benefit a defense that finished 46th in the country, including 97th against the pass, a number that actually improved 10 spots after the bowl game.
Shane Beamer, previously in charge of the team's spurs, strong safeties, special teams and recruiting, will now be involved in only special teams and recruiting. Tight ends coach Jeep Hunter will now coach safeties. Hunter was once the secondary coach at Eastern Kentucky.
Running backs coach Jay Graham will pick up tight ends, as well. Lorenzo Ward, ceding free safeties to Hunter, will focus on cornerbacks. With Beamer dropping spurs, Ellis Johnson will add that position to his linebackers.
The moves were made to streamline the communication process in the defense. They were also made to help relieve some stress from Beamer, the son of Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer.
No one was particularly thrilled, either, with South Carolina's special teams success. Just as much of a blocking issue, USC was 90th in the country in kick returns, 115th in punt returns.
"I think we've got to get more of our first-team players on our special teams," Spurrier said. "We didn't make much happen this year."
Internally, the staff thinks incoming freshman Damiere Byrd, a receiver prospect from New Jersey, could be an answer in its search for a game-breaking return man. Byrd is small, listed at 5-11, 155 pounds, but he's also considered one of the fastest high school players in the country.
Already a recruiting class that could help USC, with players such as Byrd and Goose Creek lineman Brandon Shell, Spurrier made another soft plea for the big fish that remain uncommitted.
"We've got a very good one," Spurrier said of the class, "and it could end up a great one."
The name that instantly makes that the case, of course, is Rock Hill native Jadeveon Clowney. The defensive end, regarded one of the top high school prospects, is visiting Alabama this weekend. The Tide and Gamecocks have been atop his list for some time, and many think he will ultimately choose to stay home, just as Lattimore, Stephon Gilmore and Alshon Jeffery have done the past couple of years. He'll announce his decision on National Signing Day, Feb. 2.
If South Carolina lands Clowney, in addition to what is returning, many analysts see the Gamecocks as a team that will continue to rise in 2011. Some pundits, including ESPN and Sports Illustrated, have already projected South Carolina as a team that could be in or near the top 10 when this season begins.
That idea made Spurrier guffaw. He might not be as discouraged by the bowl performance as a year ago, but he said his team is still coming off a less-than-impressive loss. Spurrier said the coaching staff will make sure to keep the players humbled in the months ahead.
"I hope they don't believe it after the last game, or the last two," he said of positive publicity. "We don't deserve much preseason ranking."
--South Carolina made its 2011 schedule official Friday, as well. The Gamecocks will face 10 teams that were in bowls this past season.
There are only four true road games, but three in a row -- Mississippi State, Tennessee, Arkansas -- could very well determine how successful the season is.
The Gamecocks open Sept. 3 against East Carolina in Charlotte's Bank of America Stadium. The Citadel visits Williams-Brice on Nov. 19, the Bulldogs' first game in Columbia since 1990.
South Carolina closes with Clemson at home, looking for three in a row in that rivalry series.