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South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier has a penchant for downplaying his team (3-1) as it prepares for Auburn (4-0) on Thursday.
AP Photo by Mary Ann Chastain
South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier has a penchant for downplaying his team (3-1) as it prepares for Auburn (4-0) on Thursday.

Spurrier has South Carolina surprising

By Bradley Handwerger
DAILY Sports Writer

bhandwerger@decaturdaily.com 340-2462

AUBURN — Way back at the end of July, the whispers were about South Carolina.

Sure, Florida and Georgia were overwhelming favorites to win the Southeastern Conference's Eastern division.

But the dark horse candidate to win the division was South Carolina. Four media members picked the Gamecocks to win the division, to become the first team not named Georgia, Florida or Tennessee to take the East.

It appears the 100 other writers who cover the SEC were right after all.

At least, that's what South Carolina second-year head coach Steve Spurrier said.

"We're not really considering ourselves a title team," Spurrier said. "I don't know if any team in the SEC starts as many freshmen as we do and says we're going to win the SEC. It's just not realistic."

Known for his tendency to downplay the talent of his team, Spurrier isn't doing that this time.

When No. 2 Auburn (4-0, 2-0 SEC) travels to South Carolina (3-1, 1-1) on Thursday for a 6:30 p.m. game on ESPN, the Gamecocks will use a two-deep depth chart that consists of 10 true freshmen or redshirt freshmen, including four starters.

Spurrier doesn't even see it that his team has advantage of playing at home on a shortened-week because of the Thursday night game.

"I don't think there's any edge whatsoever," Spurrier said. "As far as playing on Thursday night, we had an opponent probably similar to their opponent, Buffalo. Both teams will probably have similar schedule."

This isn't the same South Carolina team that was routed 48-7 a season ago in Auburn.

The defense is playing better, the offense isn't breaking in a new quarterback and the Gamecocks own a winning record.

You could certainly say that 41-point loss to the Tigers was the low point of Spurrier's first season back in college football after a three-year hiatus.

"It was amazing that we regrouped and won a close one against Kentucky and Vanderbilt the next two weeks," Spurrier said. "I don't know how it all happened."

Regardless of how it happened, it changed South Carolina's season for the better.

This time last year, South Carolina had done nothing to earn respect.

Its only wins were over Central Florida and Troy at the time of the Auburn game.

Now, nearly a year later to the day, the Gamecocks boast wins over Tennessee and Florida, the latter coming in Williams-Brice Stadium, the same structure that will host Thursday's game.

Those wins came during a stretch that South Carolina won five straight from the middle to the end of the season that the Gamecocks.

And now South Carolina has rattled off two straight wins this season following an 18-0 loss to Georgia in the second-week of the season, thanks to the play of the defense and replacement quarterback Syvelle Newton.

"This time last year, they were in a disarray," Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville said.

"They were standing up and running around. That's when they had coordinator problems. Now they have one guy who is doing a good job. They've got a plan."

But the main difference in the past two games is that Newton is back at a position he's comfortable playing.

He began the season as a receiver, but Spurrier thrust
him into playing quarterback when Blake Mitchell was suspended.

Mitchell is expected to be the backup this week.

In two games, Newton has tossed six touchdowns and missed only 13 passes.

"This year it will be a little different," Tuberville said. "Steve's had an opportunity to work with him, and he's got his other quarterback back. I'm sure we'll see several different things from both quarterbacks."

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