Steve Spurrier loves that all eyes are going to be on his team Saturday.
The South Carolina football team has reached the SEC championship game for the first time, which will give fans around the nation the chance to see how far Spurrier has brought the program in his sixth season.
It also will give the Gamecocks the chance to achieve the loftiest of their goals.
“The goal is to win the SEC, not just to go to Atlanta, but to win the SEC,” Spurrier said. “We have a chance this year. We know that.”
Never miss a local story.
But Spurrier also knows the opponent is as good as it gets. Auburn, No. 2 in the polls and No. 1 in the BCS, has not lost in 12 games. The Tigers defeated the Gamecocks 35-27 in September at Jordan-Hare Stadium behind the play of quarterback Cam Newton, the Heisman Trophy candidate who rushed for 176 yards, passed for 158 yards and accounted for all five Auburn touchdowns in that game.
Although his team does not have any experience in a championship game, Spurrier has plenty of it. He took Florida to seven title games from 1992 to 2000, winning five. He loves the atmosphere and the high-pressure stakes, calling the game just below that of a national championship game appearance. Most of all, he loves the drama, as well as the attention that comes along with it.
“All the SEC schools are finished playing now except us. Probably all the players on all the other teams that love football, they’ll watch this game. I know pretty much all of our guys watched it the last several years,” he said.
“The whole country watches pretty much and when it’s all over, there’s a pretty happy team, fans, school. This is what we all shoot for. We have 12 teams and only one can win it all. That’s why people watch. There’s going to be a winner and a loser, and that’s what makes college football so big.”
Winning, of course, is much better than losing, especially since a win for USC would send it to a BCS game in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans on Jan. 4. That’s what motivates Spurrier, who does not care about spoiling Auburn’s chances at winning another national championship for the SEC.
“We worry about South Carolina, our school, our state, our team,” he said. “And we’re trying to win our first conference championship, and that’s the only thing we need to concern ourselves with.”
Spurrier also refuses to get bogged down in discussing what this means as a historical achievement. Not only would it give USC only its second conference championship besides winning the ACC in 1969, it would give the Gamecocks just their second 10-win season to go with the 1984 campaign.
“We all know the significance, we all know it hasn’t happened before and all this, that and the other. But that’s not going to help us win the game, talking about that,” he said. “We’re trying to talk about how we need to play it and give ourselves the best chance to be successful and try and win the game. I had a friend of mine telling me how big it would be if we were to win and I said, ‘Now listen, you don’t think I don’t know that? We didn’t arrive yesterday.’”
The players would like nothing more, however, than to be a part of USC history.
“It’s all the motivation in the world,” sophomore receiver Tori Gurley said. “They won the ACC championship back in the day, but now we have the opportunity to open up doors for Carolina football and this program. Saturday we’re going to do everything that we can to win.”
For senior linebacker Josh Dickerson, he can’t think of a better way to end his career.
“It being my last year and being able to have the chance to make history, I’m definitely real excited to play this game,” Dickerson said. “We’re preparing hard for this game. We’re going to put everything into this game.”
All of them know the college football world is going to be watching.