HOOVER, Ala. — Steve Spurrier likes to say that the months between spring practices and the beginning of college football games are “talking season.” Media members and fans prognosticate how the autumn will unfold. Coaches and players offer endlessly optimistic comments about offseason workouts, conditioning and the like.
SEC Media Days
Where: Hoover, Ala.
2-4:40 p.m. — Florida and Missouri
4:50-7:20 p.m. — South Carolina and Ole Miss
But in the end, none of it matters, and Spurrier knows that. Talking season, which peaks Tuesday through Thursday with Southeastern Conference Media Days, serves as nothing more than an opportunity to anticipate and hope for greater things than last year brought.
For Spurrier and South Carolina, these are heady times, the finest in the program’s history. The Gamecocks went 11-2 each of the past two seasons — their top records ever. They finished last year eighth in the Associated Press poll (another high), and will be around there in this year’s preseason poll. They have next year’s projected No. 1 NFL draft pick in defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
Twenty-three years after Spurrier arrived at Florida with a swashbuckling demeanor and prolific offense that would serve as the face of the SEC throughout the 1990s, he comes to Hoover, Ala., Tuesday as the league’s most senior coach, by far. Other than Spurrier, 68, the only SEC coaches in their 60s are Alabama’s Nick Saban and Missouri’s Gary Pinkel, who are both 61.
But don’t call Spurrier old, because he can’t stand that word, and he certainly doesn’t act elderly. Moreover, USC’s recent success has energized him in the twilight of his career.
Maybe he will entertain the assembled media members Tuesday afternoon with a zinger or three, like he did last year, when he said this about USC’s and Georgia’s rotating cross-division opponents in 2012: “If I made the schedule, Georgia would be playing LSU and we’d be playing Ole Miss.”
Mississippi did go 1-7 and 0-8 in SEC play in 2010 and 2011, before new coach Hugh Freeze went 3-5 in 2012. So Spurrier was just saying what any coach would think, but few would say.
Or maybe Spurrier will make a case for Clowney being the first exclusively defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy. Spurrier won the 1966 Heisman as Florida’s quarterback, so he has a vote. He used it last year to put Clowney first. Clowney finished sixth.
Clowney will be in Hoover on Tuesday, too, along with quarterback Connor Shaw and wide receiver Bruce Ellington. None of the three is as experienced with talking season as Spurrier, but Clowney has grown more comfortable over the past two seasons with the increasing amount of attention paid to his football abilities.
Still, USC has done its best to shield Clowney from the attention as it peaks. He has not been made available for one-on-one interviews this summer. So everyone who packs the hotel ballroom in Hoover will await what he says about the Heisman and USC’s chances of surpassing the past two seasons’ glory. Of course, Clowney probably realizes by now that anything he says in this forum will have zero impact on the results of USC’s season.
But as he prepares to be peppered with hundreds of questions, perhaps there is more urgency to USC’s summer than there was a year ago.
Yes, for the second straight year, the Gamecocks open the season with a legit opponent on a Thursday night. Last year, they traveled to Vanderbilt and won, 17-13. This year, they host North Carolina on Aug. 29.
But unlike last year, the Gamecocks face another challenge in Week 2. Instead of hosting an overmatched team like East Carolina, which USC pounded, 48-10, last year, the Gamecocks travel this season to Georgia for their second game.
Georgia has won the SEC Eastern Division the past two years, going 7-1 in league play each time, compared to 6-2 for USC, which beat the Bulldogs both years. USC won the East in 2010.
As the Bulldogs and Gamecocks get ready to battle for the division again, Spurrier won’t be able to crack wise about Georgia’s rotating cross-division opponent. Georgia did beat Mississippi last year in Athens, while USC lost at LSU, a brutal road setting. But this year, the Bulldogs host LSU and the Gamecocks host Mississippi State.
Not that talking season is ever any less interesting with Spurrier at the podium.