HOOVER, Ala. - Steve Spurrier is still making the same South Carolina sales pitch entering his 10th season in Columbia.
"I can assure you, I tell those recruits, if you come here, hopefully you'll be on the first-ever SEC championship team ever," the Gamecocks' head coach said Tuesday at SEC Media Days.
From Fort Sumter to Sassafras Mountain, it's hard to find a South Carolina football fan upset that Spurrier has led the Gamecocks to only one SEC title game - a 2010 loss to Auburn. Three straight 11-2 seasons translate to glory days, topped by the rich icing of a five-game winning streak against Clemson.
Relative Gamecocks history and Palmetto State braggin' rights don't matter much at SEC Media Days.
In Alabama, Clemson questions are as rare as love for Florida State. It's more about getting to Atlanta and wondering if South Carolina will get another precious shot at what Spurrier really wants, an SEC title.
The Gamecocks are likely to be the SEC East favorite, nudging Georgia in the SEC Media Days poll due Thursday.
South Carolina's 2014 schedule is favorable, with Georgia and Missouri at home.
It's not exactly a pressure cooker there on George Rogers Boulevard. But the SEC East window is closing - Florida and Tennessee won't be down forever.
It's time for Spurrier's Gamecocks to win now or risk sinking from annual contender status to the occasional wing of the division.
Three 11-2 years, no title
"We need one of those Eastern Division teams to lose a game," Spurrier said. "We've gone 6-2 in the conference and beat the division winner three years in a row (Georgia twice and Missouri last year). Then they go 7-1. All you can do is give Georgia credit and give Missouri credit for doing it also."
It's very hard to go 11-2 three years in a row and not reach the SEC Championship Game. Everything has to fall just right, or wrong.
"Sometimes teams with the best players don't win and the team that plays the best does win," Spurrier said. "And that's how we've been fortunate to win a lot of games the last few years. I'm not sure that overall we were a lot better but we've played well, especially in the fourth quarter."
Recent Clemson wins, for instance.
The latest exception was a 23-21 loss at unranked Tennessee last October. It's not a reach to put South Carolina in the national championship picture with one more big play in Knoxville.
Like 2010, or better
Spurrier seems at once grateful and puzzled by fan reaction. All he has to do in his adopted home state is say "Clemson" to get a standing ovation and a free meal.
"What I've also learned at South Carolina, our fans realize there's more to life than winning the SEC championship," he said. "They really do. We're in a state with Clemson. Clemson used to pretty much own South Carolina in football, no question about it. We have a state championship trophy. If you ask our fans at South Carolina, I can assure you a majority would say, 'We would rather beat Clemson than win the SEC.' That is how big it is to them, that one game."
But Spurrier, a former Florida player and coach, has been an SEC guy longer than most South Carolina fans have been invested in the league.
"Personally, I'd rather win the SEC," he repeated. "I don't mind saying that."
Same goes for everyone in Alabama and its border states.
Of course, it's perfectly normal in America to want it all.
The Gamecocks beat Clemson and made it to the SEC Championship Game in 2010.
They can do it again. They are expected to do it again.
Spurrier truly believes, too, or so goes the conventional wisdom of SEC Media Days.
"He's been awful quiet," Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin said Tuesday. "He must think they're pretty good."
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff
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