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TAMPA, Fla. – It’s funny. Steve Spurrier has been called brash throughout his coaching career, but he sounds positively sedate compared to some of his South Carolina players.
A coach comes off a 7-5 regular-season and two severe whippings from Florida and Clemson, and he knows better to flap his gums.
But his players have come to Tampa for the Outback Bowl talking like they’re somebody. The 56-6 thrashing they suffered on Nov. 15 at Spurrier’s old school, Florida? It’s old news. The 31-14 beating they took at state-rival Clemson two weeks later? It’s washed away.
“I thank the fans who’ve been with us through the good and the bad,” said USC senior wide receiver Kenny McKinley. “Just know that better days are coming. It’s going to start when we play Iowa.”
Maybe. But you won’t hear a similar pledge from the Ol’ Ball Coach, as he’s known down here.
Spurrier was the master of the universe when he coached the Florida Gators from 1990 through 2001. Oh, the days and nights were sweet in Gainesville.
His record was 122-27-1. There were seven Southeastern Conference titles, six appearances in the Top Five of the Associated Press’ final rankings. And, there was a national championship in 1996.
Seeking a new frontier, Spurrier spent two undistinguished seasons with the NFL’s Washington Redskins, then took a year off. He is now in his fourth year at South Carolina, and guess what? Winning is harder at some places than it is at Florida.
Spurrier relates to Iowa’s situation.
“In the Big Ten,” he said, “Ohio State’s always going to be there. Michigan should always be there. Then there’s a lot of schools in the middle.
“Yeah, we’re probably one of the schools in the middle.”
None of the other 11 SEC fan bases are feeling sorry for South Carolina only being ordinary the last four seasons, 28-21 overall and 15-17 in the league.
Ten of those fan groups remember how Spurrier used to trample them. The other is Florida’s, which is looking forward at a second national championship game under Urban Meyer instead of backward at the monster Spurrier created there.
Spurrier rankled Tennessee and Florida State ruthlessly when he was the Gators’ boss. He famously said you can’t spell “Citrus” without the “UT,” meaning Tennessee mostly went to Florida Citrus Bowls and the such while he was piloting Florida to five Sugar Bowls and two Orange Bowls.
But four years in at USC, and this Outback Bowl is the most prestigious of the three postseason games South Carolina has attended under Spurrier. And the 7-5 Gamecocks are here only because Tampa had no one more desirable from the SEC to pick.
“Last year we lost our last five,” Spurrier said Saturday after his team’s practice at Jefferson High School in Tampa. “We’ve only lost two in a row right now. So we’re a lot better off than we were a year ago.”
He said his goal is South Carolina’s first SEC title. They dreamed bigger at Florida.
“It always comes down to a bunch of good players and so forth,” Spurrier said.
“I believe that every now and then you can have that special year that win a conference championship. Now y’all – (former Iowa quarterback) Brad Banks, did he win (the Big Ten title) that year? They won the Big Ten that year?
“OK, that was a special year. We’re trying to have one of those special years where it all comes together.”
But to hear a couple of his Gamecock players say it, the special stuff starts Thursday in Raymond James Stadium at the expense of the Hawkeyes.
Friday night, both teams gathered in a Tampa convention center ballroom to fill themselves with Outback Steakhouse food. The size of Iowa’s offensive linemen impressed McKinley.
“I’m like ‘Golly! … NFL. A lot of guys were 6-7 and just big.”
From left to right, Iowa’s starting O-linemen stand 6-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-5 and 6-7. Their average weight is 302 pounds.
McKinley may have been wowed by those tall slabs of beef before he enjoyed his steak, but Lindsey claimed to be indifferent.
“You think my head was turning after playing Florida and all those guys?” he said. “No, man, I’m not worried about it.
“We’ve been going up against good offensive lines all year. We’re not worried about them. They’ve got a good team, and we’ve got a good plan for them.”
Iowa All-America Shonn Greene is “a good back,” Lindsey conceded. But “We’ve been facing good backs all year. We’re not stressing about it.
“As long as we can keep him behind that line, we’ll be fine.”
If you’d heard some bravado from Spurrier, you might be swayed South Carolina is poised for an upset. But when players who lost a game by 50 points last month talk boldly, we still need more proof the Gamecocks have game.