Florida coach Muschamp has Gators winning again second year at Florida

COLUMBIA — South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has been named Southeastern Conference coach of the year five times — in 1990, 1995 and 1996 at Florida and 2005 and 2010 at USC. Only Mississippi’s John Vaught and Alabama’s Bear Bryant have won the award more times — six for Vaught, 10 for Bryant.

Just past the midpoint of the regular season, Spurrier said he knows who should be the frontrunner for the award — Florida coach Will Muschamp.

“Muschamp has to be up for coach of the year right now,” Spurrier said. “Florida was not meant to be 7-0 right now.”

The Gators are actually 6-0, 5-0 in the SEC, and ranked third in the Associated Press poll and second in the initial Bowl Championship Series standings that came out Sunday. They were ranked No. 23 in the preseason AP poll.

The Gators host ninth-ranked USC at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, as the Gamecocks try to rebound from their loss at LSU. USC-Florida will play a critical role in deciding the SEC’s Eastern Division champion, and perhaps its coach of the year.

A Florida coach hasn’t won SEC coach of the year since Spurrier in 1996. Urban Meyer, who coached at Florida from 2005-10, never won it, despite winning the national championship in 2006 and 2008. Arkansas’ Houston Nutt and Alabama’s Nick Saban won the award in those years.

Muschamp was a first-time head coach last season after serving as Texas’ defensive coordinator from 2008-10 and Auburn’s from 2006-07. The Gators sputtered to a 7-6 record, 3-5 in the SEC, last season.

This season, Muschamp settled on sophomore Jeff Driskel as his starting quarterback over sophomore Jacoby Brissett. Driskel is completing 66.7 percent of his passes for 836 yards, four touchdowns and an interception, though he attempts just 18.5 passes per game, as Florida leans on its rushing game. Driskel was rated the No. 1 pro-style quarterback and No. 32 overall recruit in the Class of 2011.

Driskel, 19, is too young to even remember Spurrier as Florida’s coach. Spurrier’s last season there was 2001, when Driskel was eight.

“I think I was more concerned with cartoons at that point,” Driskel said, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

South Carolina’s Oct. 27 home game against Tennessee will kick off at noon and air on ESPN. The Volunteers are 3-3 and 0-3 in the SEC in their third season under coach Derek Dooley, who came from Louisiana Tech, his only previous head coaching job. He is the son of former Georgia coach Vince Dooley.

Derek Dooley is now 14-17 and 4-15 in the SEC at Tennessee. The Volunteers host top-ranked Alabama on Saturday night. USC is 6-22-2 all-time against the Volunteers and had never won back-to-back games over them until last season, when USC won 14-3 in Knoxville. Spurrier is 4-3 against Tennessee while USC’s coach

USC receiver Ace Sanders is closing on the school’s single-season punt return record. Sanders has 18 returns for 313 yards and a touchdown. Sanders had 16 for 149 last season. A USC player hadn’t even eclipsed 200 punt return yards in a season since 2000, when Ryan Brewer had 202.

The single-season school record for punt return yards is 362 by Dick Harris in 1971. He also set the record that season for most punt returns — 37. So his 9.8 yards per return pales in comparison to Sanders’ 17.4, which ranks No. 4 nationally. The school record for most yards per punt return in a season is 17.1 by Billy Stephens in 1951, when he returned 18 for 309 yards.