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Five things I learned: Spurrier's Fun 'n' Run, Gators' closing problems

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Will Muschamp hopes Florida's offseason work translates to fourth-quarter success this season. (US Presswire)  
Will Muschamp hopes Florida's offseason work translates to fourth-quarter success this season. (US Presswire)  

I don't know about you, but after a week of dealing with the fallout at Penn State, I'm ready to talk about football again.

Most training camps get underway by the end of this week and, man, do we need it.

I went back through my notes from SEC media days and picked out Five Things I Learned. We'll do the same for the ACC on Wednesday.

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Here we go:

1. Steve Spurrier's world has really changed: Spurrier is entering his eighth -- that's right, eighth -- season at South Carolina and is coming off the first 11-win season in school history.

South Carolina won those games despite the fact that its offense ranked No. 74 nationally (373.54 yards per game). The Gamecocks ran 870 plays last season (553 rush, 317 pass). On average, South Carolina ran 42.5 times per game and passed just over 24.

"We may be that way this year," Spurrier said. "If we can't throw it very well, we're not going to try to."

It is quite a departure from the Fun 'n' Gun days at Florida from 1990 to 2001. Spurrier's 1996 national championship team at Florida was about 50-50 run to pass (442 run plays, 412 pass). Spurrier would use the pass to get the lead and then run the ball a bunch in the fourth quarter to milk the clock.

Spurrier realized early on at South Carolina that he would not get the athletes in enough numbers to dominate the way he did at Florida. So he found another way to win. South Carolina finished No. 3 nationally in total defense last season behind Alabama and LSU.

"We'll probably be more of a running team, play defense, pick your spots to throw the ball," Spurrier said. "That's not a bad formula. A little different than I've coached in the past. As all of us know, you can win a bunch of ballgames doing it that way."

2. There is no mystery about what Florida must do to win more games in 2012: Gators coach Will Muschamp mentioned this to me in the spring and then brought it up again at SEC media days in Hoover, Ala.

Simply put: In 2011, Florida was not a physically or mentally tough football team in the fourth quarter.

"We need to finish. That's something you can attribute to the weight room," Muschamp said. "We have to be stronger and [better] conditioned."

Muschamp completely revamped Florida's strength and conditioning program by bringing in Jeff Dillman from the IMG Performance Institute. Muschamp says the Gators will be bigger and stronger and (hopefully) perform better in close games.

Florida's fourth-quarter failures
Gators in SEC fourth quarters, 2011
Opponent4Q scoreResult
TennesseeUT, 10-3W, 33-23
KentuckyUF, 7-0W, 48-10
AlabamaAla., 14-0L, 38-10
LSULSU, 14-0L, 41-11
AuburnAub., 10-0L, 17-6
GeorgiaUGA, 7-0L, 24-20
VanderbiltVU, 14-6W, 26-21
S. CarolinaUF, 6-3L, 17-12

"You're talking about a one- or two-possession game late in the game," Muschamp said. "You need to win those games. I feel like Jeff has done a nice job with our football team."

3. Texas A&M is really counting on Christine Michael: Even though he shared time in the backfield with Cyrus Gray (1,046 yards rushing), Michael was on pace to be the Aggies' top rusher with 899 yards (on 6 yards per carry) last season when he tore an ACL in the ninth game against Oklahoma. It was the second straight year his season was cut short by injury (broken leg in 2010).

Michael attacked his rehab and was ready to go -- actually, too ready to go when spring practice rolled around.

"About Week 2 or 3 I pulled him off the field," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "Anybody who watched him play last year knows he's a big, physical guy."

Sumlin said Michael has put on some additional muscle and could play at 223 pounds this season.

Michael enters his senior season with 2,374 career yards (5.4 ypc).

4. Keep your eye on Odell Beckham Jr.: LSU was criticized (rightfully so) for having a less-than-creative offensive game plan in the BCS national title game against Alabama.

LSU believes it will finally have an effective vertical passing game (something it really hasn't had since Matt Flynn with the 2007 national championship team) with junior Zach Mettenberger taking over at quarterback.

The guy who benefits the most from Mettenberger's presence will be sophomore receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who caught 41 passes on a team that finished 10th in the SEC in passing.

Folks, Beckham is really good. He averaged 11.5 yards per catch last season. If he was playing at Southern California, Beckham would be a preseason All-America. And he is psyched about having Mettenberger there to get him the ball.

"You can just see it in his eyes. He's ready," Beckham said of Mettenberger. "He has a phenomenal arm and he's going to lead us to a lot of victories."

5. Want a kid to pull for? Try Jarvis Jones: There have been a lot of great pass rushers in Georgia history. Jones is as good as any of them. The junior from Columbus, Ga., led the SEC in sacks (13½) last season. He was a half-sack away from David Pollack's school record of 14 set in 2002. Jones had 19½ tackles for loss.

He began his career at USC and played in eight games as a true freshman in 2009. After a neck injury knocked him out for the season, team doctors would not clear him to play again for the Trojans. He got a second opinion and was eventually given a clean bill of health to play when he transferred to Georgia. He sat out the 2010 season and was simply unblockable in 2011. He is the best player on a defense that returns 10 starters from what was the fifth-ranked unit in the country last season. The No. 1 job for any offense that plays Georgia this season is to account for Jarvis Jones.

"I think with our whole defense coming back, focusing on me would be the wrong thing to do for the offensive opponent," said Jones. "We've got so much talent coming back and are capable of making the same plays that I am. Guys are a year older now, more mature; understand our system and what our coaches expect of us. It's going to be exciting watching us play."

The Tony Barnhart Show begins Aug. 28 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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