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Senior College Football Columnist

Weekend Watch List: Nothing sentimental about Spurrier's Florida homecoming

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Welcome to Week 8. Before we proceed, all hail Kulabafi ...

If you're still into false idols this weekend, remember there's a commandment for that.

Otherwise, pay no attention to Steve Spurrier's likeness -- the Ol' Bronze Coach? -- outside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. His is one of three statues honoring Florida's Heisman Trophy winners. But all the huggy, mushy feelings that have accompanied Spurrier's return to his ancestral homeland are merely a sidebar to South Carolina-Florida.

Ask Spurrier himself.

"I don't think it's as much of a storyline," he said this week. "It's eight years [at South Carolina]. It's the fourth time I've been down there coaching. ... I guess it is a little unusual to be on the other team and you come in the ball park and your name is on the wall up there."

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South Carolina's coach-by-way-of-Gainesville-and-the-Redskins has never been pretentious when it comes to these things. He would rather beat your butt than get another plaque. That's why he knew this day was coming. Knew it since the summer when he saw Georgia, LSU and Florida back-to-back-to-back on his schedule.

One man's opportunity to win the SEC East has turned into typical Southeastern Conference attrition. Two weeks ago South Carolina was the toast of the talk shows after smoking Georgia. After a brave effort at Death Valley, the Gamecocks returned to earth. Now as Spurrier returns to Gainesville again, the situation has degraded.

There is a tenuous hold on that East Division. Lose to the Gators and next week's Cocktail Party probably becomes a head-to-head playoff for the division. In what shape will the Gamecocks arrive in Gainesville? It's no secret they are beaten up. Jadeveon Clowney has a sore foot. Tackle Kelcy Quarles has an ailing shoulder and has been suspended for punching an LSU player last week. Multiple players reportedly had the flu.

Most significant, Spurrier said this week that tailback Marcus Lattimore missed practice Tuesday with a sore hip and might not start Saturday. That's not good news playing a defense that has held its past two opponents to 2.3 yards per rush. There has been a general feeling that Lattimore had lost a little something coming off knee surgery. Florida safety Josh Evans gave voice to that feeling this week.

"I think he lost a step a little bit from what we've seen before," Evans said, "but he's still showing statistics, so nothing to take away from him. I think that's due to the injury."

Fair enough. Lattimore still is tied for the SEC lead with 10 touchdowns. That's why sometimes yards earned in the SEC have an exchange rate. They're worth more on the world market. This week that market includes South Carolina's viability as a conference contender. With consecutive games against the Bulldogs, Tigers and Gators, they will have played Georgia, LSU (No. 2 in total defense) and Florida (No. 13 defense) in a row.

Is the season turning into Last Gamecock Standing?

The danger, then, of erecting statues while folks are alive is obvious. Humans are flawed, not bronze, certainly not immortal. While at his current pace, Spurrier has a chance to have a statue at two SEC schools, that's not the goal. The idea is to wreck the dreams of his alma mater on Saturday. Nothing else matters because with every day that passes, memories fade a bit more.

"I drive by his statue every day," Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel told reporters this week. "All of our players didn't play for him, or weren't around here when he was around. ... I think I was more worried about cartoons at that time."

That Second Commandment seems to be alive and well.

Week 8 observations

 If you want a window into the game's current cultural divide, LSU-Texas A&M is for you. Either Johnny "Football" Manziel and the Aggies' wild-eyed offense are going to change the SEC or they're going to learn their place. Against the only other SEC opponent of this quality, A&M blew a 17-7 first-half lead to Florida and lost 20-17. That's 37 total points, 10 fewer than the Aggies are now averaging on offense alone. Old SEC vs. upstart at Kyle Stadium. The Punk And The Godfather. Who ya like? Top 25 Preview: LSU at Texas A&M

 WWL changed its mind on the Kansas State-West Virginia game after a visit to Manhattan, Kan., this week. The guess now is that Bill Snyder is preparing the Wildcats this way: The Mountaineers do one thing really well -- pass. But the Wildcats are more of a complete team at this point. If they can dial in on a defense lacking confidence, control the clock and get to Geno Smith just a little bit, well, the dream lives. Top 25 Preview: Kansas State at West Virginia

 Profound words by Florida's Will Muschamp on how the SEC changes a man. Offensive coordinator Brent Pease came to Florida from Boise State, where he was guiding record-setting quarterback Kellen Moore. He has traded in an offense that averaged 44 points per game with Moore to one that is last in SEC passing.

"That's what good coaches do. They identify: OK, this is who we are," Muschamp said. "I think sometimes in the coaching world, the guys who make the biggest mistakes are not identifying who you are. ... Brent's not a stat guy. Most of these offensive guys are all stat guys. He cares about winning football games. ... He played to his strengths in Boise and that was Kellen Moore. Right now, we're playing good defense and special teams and running the ball."

 Notre Dame (vs. Brigham Young) is just going to have to own it. This is a sum-of-its-parts team. The defensive front seven is stout. Quarterback Everett Golson -- cleared this week after a concussion -- is a work in progress. Tommy Rees looks completely comfortable coming off the bench to be the closer. Even assuming losses at Oklahoma and Southern California later, the Irish are going to be a BCS team -- at least. Top 25 Preview: BYU at Notre Dame

 Ups to Nick Saban for making LaMichael Fanning write a letter of apology to Missouri's Russell Hansbrough for that suplex he applied last week. Left unpunished, the SEC probably would have stepped in and suspended Fanning. In some small measure, that would have embarrassed the program and caused more questions, a distraction during Tennessee week. Another subtle example of Saban's subtle mastery of the situation -- another example why Alabama is No. 1.

"It's the right thing to do," Saban said. "Everybody makes mistakes." Top 25 Preview: Alabama at Tennessee

 Thanks to conference realignment, Stanford-California is the latest rivalry to lose its sheen. Thirty years after "The Play," The Big Game has been moved to the third week of October to accommodate the new Pac-12 schedule. Purists, former Stanford AD Bowlsby among them, are upset the game has become a commoner rather than a late November end-all.

"I was against it," said Bowlsby, now the Big 12 commissioner, "so were the Cal people. There are 100 events surrounding that game."

The Cardinal are still in line for a division title and Rose Bowl berth. They are going to have to get tougher, having scored no offensive touchdowns in two road games. Cal (3-4) has a bowl berth and Jeff Tedford's job security in play. Top 25 Preview: Stanford at Cal

 For everyone freaking out over two SEC teams at the top of the first BCS standings, stand down. That situation will resolve itself. If they keep winning the teams will ultimately meet in the SEC Championship Game. As for another Alabama-LSU rematch, about the only way that happens again is if the Tigers beat the Aggies and then defeat Alabama on Nov. 3. Then we can start thinking about it. The teams came into last year's first meeting undefeated. This year, LSU already has a loss.

 Didn't you used to be ... Florida State-Miami (Fla.) and Michigan-Michigan State? They've got nine losses between them. Only two (Michigan, Florida State) are ranked. Only one (Miami) has the outright lead in its division. There has to be something at stake.

Michigan State has become Big Brother in the series, having won four in a row. The Spartans can brighten an underachieving season by winning at the Big House for the fourth time since 1990. Take a seething Michigan (see last year's hate-filled loss in East Lansing), though.

Miami has a sickly defense (117th nationally) and a banged-up Stephen Morris (doubtful with an ankle injury). No reason to go against Jimbo Fisher, who is 5-0 against in-state teams since taking over the Noles. Top 25 Preview: Florida State at Miami

Stat package

The ground-based SEC has three tailbacks in the top 40 in rushing. The Mountain West has six. ... Michigan is one win away from 900 all-time. ... Baylor's defense is miserable but don't blame sophomore linebacker Bryce Hager. He's third nationally in tackles (12.2 per game). ... The top passer (Marshall's Rakeem Cato in yards per game) has already met No. 2 (Geno Smith). No. 2 has already met No. 3 (Baylor's Nick Florence). ... Missouri's Marcus Murphy has as many punt returns for touchdowns (3) as the rest of the SEC. ... Alabama has allowed 83 first-half rushing yards -- 83. That's 6.92 yards per quarter over the first six games. ... They're doing it two different ways in Oregon. The Ducks are 98th in time of possession (before Thursday night). Oregon State is first. ... Where Heisman races go, Bowlsby follows. The Big 12 commissioner is involved in his fourth consecutive Heisman race. In the past three years as Stanford's AD, Cardinal players finished as runner-up (Toby Gerhart once, Andrew Luck twice). This season Smith and Kansas State's Collin Klein are high on most lists.


Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.
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