COLUMBIA -- It's only a field goal or less.

Still, South Carolina officially is favored this week in a large Southeastern Conference football game scheduled for the very unfriendly confines of Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga.

Don't look now -- the No. 12 Gamecocks, favored against Georgia, likely will be favored in all of their games this regular season.

"Not the way we played last week," head coach Steve Spurrier said of a 56-37 victory over East Carolina in the opener. "We've got to play a lot better."

They don't give trophies for every major accomplishment in college football, but someone in Las Vegas should send a shiny statue of Cocky The Gamecock hanging out at Caesars Palace.

Though it didn't happen overnight, South Carolina has gone from frequent underdog to a program that gets an opponent's best shot.

"Ah, I think we always get everybody's best shot, to tell you the truth," Spurrier said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. "In our minds, it's how lousy our team played last week."

Motivation 101

The Head Ball Coach outlined why the Gamecocks were fortunate to escape the East Carolina game in Charlotte.

"We have to play a lot better before we think we're hot stuff, that's what I'm trying to say," he said. "We're not very hot right now. We're just an average bunch of guys out there right now."

OK, maybe so.

But most head coaches love playing the underdog card, and South Carolina football coaches traditionally receive a big stack of them when they're hired.

Now, Spurrier has to adjust back to his Florida days when Georgia was the team using the point spread as motivation.

"None of that means anything," Spurrier said of this week's official line.

He made another point spread point: "The best team doesn't always win in college football."

Of course, we all watched strange stuff Saturday.

South Florida won at Notre Dame, and Sacramento State upset Oregon State, among other things.

Favored status, however, is a reflection of South Carolina's dominant 17-6 victory over the Bulldogs last September in Columbia, Georgia's 6-7 stumble through 2010, Boise State's 35-21 win last week in Atlanta …

Oh, and the real or perceived pressure on Georgia head coach Mark Richt.

'Gradually up'

Ridiculous, considering how well Richt has done for so long in Athens. Georgia, even with an 0-2 start, easily can win nine games against one of the SEC's weakest league schedules.

It's just that Georgia fans don't like looking up at garnet in the SEC standings.

"Things change quickly sometimes," Spurrier said. "Obviously, if you go into a little bit of a slump and you're at a school that's used to winning and you're not winning as big as you used to, the fans get a little irritated. That's just the way it is.

"I came to a program that, actually, the coach before me (Lou Holtz) had a losing record. Our expectations weren't quite like Florida and Tennessee and Georgia. So we had nowhere to go but up. We've gone gradually up. We're not up yet, that's for sure. But we're trying to get there."

Week-to-week point spread respect from the smart money is a big step.

Reach Gene Sapakoff at 937-5593.