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Despite setbacks, overachieving Gamecocks may reach 10-win mark

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Spurrier led South Carolina past Georgia, Tennessee and Florida for the second year in a row. (Getty Images)  
Spurrier led South Carolina past Georgia, Tennessee and Florida for the second year in a row. (Getty Images)  

As the son of a Presbyterian minister, Steve Spurrier has an easily defined view of the world. People basically fall into one of two camps: Old Testament guys and New Testament guys.

"The New Testament guys kind of believe in turning the other cheek when somebody does something bad to you," Spurrier said. "I'm more of an Old Testament guy."

And what does an Old Testament guy do?

"When somebody sticks you in the ear hole," he said, "you stick them in the ear hole right back."

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Simply put, Spurrier doesn't get philosophical or emotional about winning and losing. He likes to win. He really, REALLY likes to win. And he hates losing more than he loves winning. But he's rarely, if ever, introspective about winning and losing. Either you do or don't. And no matter what happens, win or lose, you move on to the next game. You don't celebrate for long and you don't complain at all. You just take your ball and walk to the next tee.

Very Old Testament.

But Spurrier was feeling pretty good about things Sunday morning when we talked. That's because on Saturday his seventh South Carolina team had just beaten Florida 17-12. That win moved the Gamecocks to 8-2 this season and created a bunch of "firsts" for Spurrier in his time in Columbia:

 For the first time in school history, South Carolina finished at 6-2 in the SEC. In its previous 19 seasons in the conference, South Carolina had been 5-3 a grand total of four times. Two of those were under Lou Holtz (2000, 2001) and the other two have been under Spurrier (2005, 2010).

 For the first time ever, South Carolina beat all five if its opponents in the SEC East, including Georgia, which can clinch the division on Saturday with a win over Kentucky.

 For the second consecutive year, South Carolina beat all three of its biggest SEC rivals: Georgia, Tennessee and Florida. The Gamecocks had never done that in 20 years of conference membership.

"I know the folks around here may be a little disappointed if we don't get to the SEC championship game, but given where we started, those are big accomplishments for us," said Spurrier, who turned 66 last April. "When I took this job a bunch of my buddies said we would never be consistently competitive in the SEC because nobody had ever done it. And now we are. Finishing 6-2 in the SEC is something special."

South Carolina had a chance to go back to the SEC championship game for the second straight year, but a couple of losses to Western Division foes Auburn (16-13) and Arkansas (44-28) did them in. Georgia caught a break on the schedule and did not have to play LSU, Alabama or Arkansas, all ranked in the top six of the BCS. Yes, there is a chance Georgia will stub its toe against Kentucky (1-5 SEC) but not much. Georgia dominated Auburn 45-7 last Saturday.

"You have to give Georgia credit," Spurrier said. "They outplayed us the night we beat them, but we took advantage of a bunch of mistakes they made. They are playing a lot better now. They are a good team. We had our chances and that's too bad because getting back to Atlanta would have been another really special accomplishment for our school."

Steve Spurrier has won more SEC games (116) than anybody not named Bear Bryant. He has won six SEC championships, second only to Bryant's 14. His fellow coaches have voted him SEC coach of the year five times, the latest coming last season. But it can be argued that, given the hardships and the drama this team has been through, this is one of Spurrier's best coaching jobs.

South Carolina was in turmoil in the first half of the season with the ongoing five-year soap opera that was quarterback Stephen Garcia. Spurrier didn't start Garcia in the opener with East Carolina and fell behind 17-0. Garcia came off the bench and rallied the Gamecocks to a 56-37 victory.

In Athens on Sept. 10, South Carolina turned three turnovers and a fake punt into 28 points and needed every one of them to beat Georgia (45-42). The Gamecocks were lucky to beat Navy, 24-21, and were slopping it around against Vanderbilt on Sept. 24 before Marcus Lattimore turned a short screen pass into a 52-yard touchdown right before halftime. The final score was 21-3, but the game was a lot closer than that.

After a 16-13 loss at home to Auburn in which Garcia was 9 of 23, Spurrier had seen enough. He benched Garcia in favor of sophomore Connor Shaw and soon Garcia was dismissed from school.

"We were going to lean on our running game and our defense," Spurrier said. "We were going to play old-timey football because that was the only way we could win."

But then the unthinkable happened. On Oct. 15 at Mississippi State, Lattimore tore up his knee trying to make a block. His best offensive weapon gone, Spurrier knew he was going to have to play even uglier to win. The Gamecocks won 14-12 in Starkville on a jump ball to Alshon Jeffery in the end zone with 3:50 left. South Carolina won 14-3 at Tennessee. The Gamecocks simply could not keep pace with Arkansas in Fayetteville, and then beat the Gators by five in Columbia.

"You just do what you think gives your team a chance to win," Spurrier said. "Arkansas was just too good, but in the rest of them we just kind of hung around and figured we'd find a way to win."

South Carolina hosts The Citadel on Saturday and then welcomes state-rival Clemson on Nov. 26. Win them both and South Carolina will post only the second 10-victory season in school history (1984 under Joe Morrison was the first). A New Year's Day bowl will certainly be in South Carolina's future if the team can close the deal in the next two weeks.

"We still want to hang an SEC championship banner here because it can be done," Spurrier said. "That's not going to change. But we've had a pretty good year around here. I'm proud of this team."

It sounds like the Head Ball Coach might be starting to take a little peek at the New Testament.

Watch The Tony Barnhart Show on Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET on the CBS Sports Network.


Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to CBSSports.com. He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.
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