Since Spurrier came to South Carolina, his teams have at least received votes for the Top 25 at the beginning of every season. From 2007 to 2009 they finished the season without a single vote, but since then they have proven better than their preseason ranking every year (see table of rankings since 2005 for South Carolina and UNC below). The Gamecocks kickoff at 6 pm Thursday with a much better chance than the “one-in-a-million” odds Spurrier gave his team after the first time I covered him live.
|Year||SC Pre||SC Final||UNC Pre||UNC Fin|
In 2010 they moved from 32nd to 22nd, then in 2011 from 12th to 8th, and last year from 9th to 7th. A fourth straight year of exceeding preseason expectations by even a couple of spots would put them in the top four. Their opponent UNC on the other hand received top-25 preseason votes for the sixth straight year – including starting at No. 20 and No. 18 in 2009 and 2010, but they have yet to finish any of those seasons with any Top 25 votes.
The first thing I ever heard Steve Spurrier say in person was, “Well, I’m pretty sure Clemson is shaking after watching that! … No seriously, our chances of winning next Saturday are one in a million.” I had just watched his team from Duke get humiliated by the University of Virginia to fall to 1-3 going into a game with No. 7 Clemson, which had already gone into Florida State and Virginia Tech for big upsets. Now Spurrier has the No. 7 team and Jadeveon Clowney, and if they start with a win against a UNC team that has disappointed five years in a row (see past rankings of both schools below) they could compete for a national title.
Spurrier’s post-game interview in 1989 was the first college football game I ever covered, writing for the Charlottesville Daily-Progress after years of covering high school football. Duke was humiliated 28-49, but unbelievably did go out the next week and get the “one-in-a-million” by shocking Clemson and then closed the season with eight straight wins. The year before he had upset Tennessee on the road, in a game that he often referenced prior to his Florida-Tennessee battles.
“I went into Knoxville with Duke … Duke … and beat Tennessee,” Spurrier would say when asked if the trip to Knoxville would be a tough challenge for his Florida Gators. On one occasion after winning and costing Tennessee a bid to a top-tier poll he added, “You can’t spell CITRUS without a U and a T.”
Duke also destroyed UNC in 1989, his last year coaching Duke before moving onto Florida. This year he has a squad that my give him his best shot at another national title, but they will have to start by taking care of the Tar Heels Thursday night or they could be the first contender knocked out of the national title hunt.