If there’s one thing more surprising than Auburn’s meteoric ascent this season under a coach, Gene Chizik, who mostly was lampooned when he was hired, it’s this: South Carolina is in the SEC championship game.
When Steve Spurrier was hired by the Gamecocks, most figured he had a low ceiling for success. The doubt had nothing to do with Spurrier, who had proven to be nothing short of a terrific college coach, despite his failures in the NFL with the Washington Redskins. It was more about his ability to recruit enough talent to Columbia and win the SEC Division, which meant finishing ahead of traditional powers Georgia, Florida and Tennessee.
So here’s the question: Is what happened this year an aberration?
The Gamecocks are a pretty good team with a few players — particularly running back Marcus Lattimore and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery — who could start for any team in the country. But they obviously benefited this season from Georgia, Florida and Tennessee having down seasons.
Still, doesn’t almost every team win a division or a conference at least in part because an opponent took a step back?
ESPN’s SEC blogger, Chris Low, has posted a good column on this subject. He offers his own mea culpa for believing South Carolina would never play for the SEC title and believes Spurrier has cemented his legacy.
Personally, I think Spurrier’s legacy already was cemented. This just enhances it.
OK, try to get past your lingering disdain for Spurrier from Florida days for just a moment.
I’m guessing many of you believe Spurrier will have to do this again to prove South Carolina’s legitimacy as an SEC contender. But the Gamecocks this season have defeated Georgia, Alabama and Florida in the SEC, and last week annihilated Clemson.
Back in September, they also led Auburn in the fourth quarter before losing 35-27. Nobody should consider this rematch a gimme for the Tigers. And now that Spurrier has accomplished this once, nobody should assume South Carolina will be an annual afterthought in the SEC East.
Recent episodes . . .