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Sports Then and Now

The Old Ball Coach Throws a Wrinkle into the BCS

Posted on October 10, 2010 by Dean Hybl

Steve Spurrier reemerged on the national stage by leading South Carolina to a victory over top ranked Alabama.

It might have come as a surprise to some folks who live outside of the Southeastern United States to find out last night that Steve Spurrier was still coaching college football.

Once one of the highest profile coaches in the game, Spurrier has spent the last six years in relative obscurity coaching mediocre teams at South Carolina (35-28 record entering 2010) while three other Southeastern Conference coaches, including two by the man now patrolling the sidelines at Spurrier’s alma mater, have claimed national titles.

During his decade of glory as the coach of the Florida Gators, Spurrier’s teams typically won because they had better talent than the opposition. Their high-scoring offense was known for producing big numbers through the air, but in actuality, Spurrier’s most successful Florida teams were those that countered the aerial attack with a solid running game from backs such as Fred Taylor and Errict Rhett.

Spurrier reemerged on the national scene this weekend by showing the rest of college football that the “Old Ball Coach” still has a trick or two up his sleeve. This time around, Spurrier didn’t have better talent than the opposition, but they had a game plan capable of producing victory.

Displaying a balanced attack that was the trademark of his best Florida teams, Spurrier’s Gamecocks ran through and then passed over the defending BCS Champion Alabama Crimson Tide.

The running threat for the Gamecocks is freshman running back Marcus Lattimore. A prize recruit from a small town near Spartanburg, Lattimore rushed for 93 yards and scored three touchdowns against the Crimson Tide. By comparison, Heisman Trophy winning running back Mark Ingram gained only 41 yards and the other superstar runner for the Tide, recent Sports Illustrated cover boy Trent Richardson had only 23 yards in the game.

While Spurrier hasn’t received the same national attention since landing in South Carolina following his failed stint in the NFL, he has continued one of his trademarks from his days in Florida. With the exception of during the tenure of Heisman Trophy winner Danny Weurfell, Spurrier was always riding his quarterback and often shuttling them in by play or series.

In recent years his target for frustration has been junior Stephen Garcia. Despite being the starting quarterback all of last season, Spurrier refused to anoint Garcia as the starter for 2010 until right before the season. After passing for 235 yards and three touchdowns without any interceptions against Auburn in week four, Garcia was benched in the fourth quarter following a pair of fumbles and watched as the Tigers held on for a 35-27 victory.

After being benched in their loss to Auburn, Stephen Garcia bounced back with three touchdowns and 201 yards passing against Alabama.

Against Alabama, Garcia proved that he has thick skin and a short memory. He was outstanding against Alabama completing 17 of 20 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns.

The victory by South Carolina could end up throwing a huge monkey wrench in the BCS decision making for the rest of 2010. The SEC has claimed the last four national titles, but the only two remaining undefeated teams in the SEC Auburn and LSU both are fortunate to not have at least one loss and have shown little indication that they are among the national elite.

Even with the loss at South Carolina, I think if Alabama wins their remaining regular season games and claims the SEC Championship you could make a case that they are still among the top two teams in college football. After all, of the SEC teams that have won the last four BCS titles, last year’s Alabama squad is the only one that didn’t have a regular season loss.

However, for them to get a shot at the title this year at least three of the major conference unbeatens (Oregon, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Nebraska) have to lose a game. Since we know that either Oklahoma or Nebraska will have at least one loss, that means Oregon or Ohio State need to lose.

While certainly possible, so far no other team from either the Pac-10 or Big Ten have shown the firepower or consistency that will be needed to post such an upset. Stanford looked like they might be able to handle Oregon, but then they were run off the field in the second half. Wisconsin could defeat Ohio State next week, but that doesn’t seem probable.

Then, of course, if the current elite teams do start to falter, there is always the question of whether a one-loss SEC Champion should be in the title game above an undefeated Boise State, TCU or Utah squad.

There is no question that Boise State is good, but since dispatching Virginia Tech and Oregon State early in the season, the Broncos have had little competition and there isn’t much coming down the road. Their toughest remaining game is against 19th ranked Nevada.

It is possible that TCU is the best of the non-BCS conference teams. They also defeated Oregon State (which showed that they are not a bad team by defeating previously undefeated Arizona), but the rest of their schedule has been mediocre at best. They have games remaining against ranked Air Force and fellow top-10 team Utah, but would those victories be enough to warrant a spot in the national title game over a one-loss Alabama team?

Interestingly, if Utah (which will be part of the Pac-10 starting next season) is able to upset TCU and finish the season undefeated, they may be more deserving that Boise State of making the title game. They have already defeated BCS conference opponents Pittsburgh and Iowa State and have games remaining against Notre Dame, Air Force and Brigham Young.

Of course none of this would be an issue if the college football powers would just give college football fans what they want, as in a college football playoff. However, while I really hope that eventually happens, it would definitely change the dynamic of the college football regular season.

In the world of a college football playoff, the victory by South Carolina over Alabama would be nice footnote to the season, but it would no longer give Steve Spurrier the chance to ruin the season and national championship hopes for Nick Saban during the first half of October. Given that, maybe the current system isn’t all that bad.

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