SAPAKOFF COLUMN: Spurrier's focus back on what he does best
COLUMBIA — The second half went according to script for the South Carolina Gamecocks at lowly Kentucky on Saturday night, highlighting an otherwise disappointing week for the football program.
Perhaps you saw the mistake-filled first half, and heard that head coach Steve Spurrier, on his Thursday night radio, show threatened to “head to the beach” if a The State newspaper didn't at least muzzle its sports columnist.
Thankfully, Spurrier was back to pure football talk Tuesday at his weekly news conference. Just when it looked like thin skin might derail the positive momentum Spurrier has put on track toward Southeastern Conference championship contention, cooler heads seem to have prevailed on George Rogers Boulevard.
The Head Ball Coach, 67, was asked Tuesday if he is really considering retirement.
“That was a statement in regards to the issue that we had, but those are history,” Spurrier said.
“Let's talk about the ballgames now.”
As if No. 5 Georgia at No. 6 South Carolina Saturday night at sold-out Williams-Brice Stadium in a nationally telecast “GameDay” battle of undefeated SEC teams needs any hype.
It's one of the biggest college football games in state history, perhaps to be followed by a bigger game next week when South Carolina plays at LSU, currently ranked No. 4.
With “history” behind us, we can hug historic hysteria.
On a run vs. Big Four
A game at No. 10 Florida follows Georgia and LSU on the Gamecocks' gauntlet schedule. It likely will stand as the three highest-ranked foes South Carolina has played in consecutive regular-season games.
Because of Spurrier's program management these last three seasons, the Gamecocks are capable of a sweep. South Carolina followed its first SEC East title in 2010 with an unprecedented 11-win season in 2011.
Consider that Lou Holtz was one of the most successful coaches in South Carolina football history, with back-to-back Outback Bowl victories over Ohio State.
Holtz against the fearsome foursome of Clemson, Georgia, Florida and Tennessee went 3-21.
Remarkably, the Spurrier-led Gamecocks against those same programs are on a nine-game winning streak dating to a 2009 loss to Florida and a Gators quarterback named Tim Tebow.
“Beating Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Clemson ... I'm going to ask (ESPN analyst Lee) Corso this weekend if he thought we could beat those in a year,” Spurrier said.
“That might have been in 4,000 years we can't do that; he might have said that too. Yeah, things have changed a little bit. Being very competitive with everybody in the conference is something that certainly we're proud of. We're competitive and, as I said, we're not the best team but we're up there amongst the best teams right now.”
Even with a 5-0 start and No. 6 ranking, negative national attention was dumped on South Carolina. National columnists such as Deadspin founder Will Leitch and Gregg Doyel of cbssports.com took aim at Spurrier for his columnist blast.
Even the most zealous South Carolina fans have to be thinking, Stop. Let the media police itself. Don't let a flaw — overreaction to criticism — ruin an off-the-charts good football thing.
Spurrier knows how journalism works, or should know. He talks to more reporters than any bunch of state officials combined. Spurrier has more administrative backing than a legislator, a larger constituency than the governor, a taller pulpit than any CEO.
Bracing for more strangeness Tuesday, it was comforting to hear Spurrier turn down the “beach” music and get on with becoming the winningest coach in South Carolina history.
At 60 victories, Spurrier needs five more to pass Rex Enright and move into first place. Maybe by the Clemson game. Maybe sooner.
Reach Gene Sapakoff at 937-5593 or on Twitter @sapakoff.