Like most sequels, the title character in “Spurrier Returns to the Swamp II” isn’t sure the storyline is as interesting the second time around.
“I think that’s pretty old news. I don’t think it’ll be a big deal,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said of going to Gainesville to face his former Florida team this weekend. “It’ll just be the Gamecocks against the Gators.”
Spurrier thinks the game — not his name — is deserving of the top billing, saying both teams are better than two years ago when the sixth-ranked Gators blocked three kicks in a 17-16 victory that helped propel them to the national championship.
For the first time since Spurrier arrived at USC, both teams enter the game ranked in the top 25. The No. 24 Gamecocks have won six of their past seven games to return to the polls for the first time since early September, while Florida moved up a spot to No. 3 following its 42-14 drubbing of Vanderbilt and Penn State’s loss to Iowa.
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CBS picked the USC-Florida matchup as its SEC game of the week, the conference announced Sunday.
Though Spurrier turned to the Texas Tech-Oklahoma State game Saturday night after Florida jumped up big on Vandy, he has seen enough of the Gators to believe they’re stronger than their title team.
“Two years ago, you felt like you had a chance. A lot of teams had chances,” Spurrier said. “Certainly, Florida won the close ones two years ago that led ’em all the way through to the national championship, where now they’re sort of blowing out people pretty regularly.”
Until the Vanderbilt win, Florida had beaten four consecutive SEC teams by 30 points or more — the first time an SEC school has done so since Spurrier’s 1996 national championship squad at Florida.
The only time the Gators have trailed this season was during a 31-30 home loss to Mississippi on Sept. 27. Put another way, Florida has trailed for fewer than 16 of the 540 minutes it has played this season.
The Gators have the reigning Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Tim Tebow and one of the SEC’s top playmakers in receiver Percy Harvin, who missed last year’s game due to a sinus infection.
The Gamecocks will counter with the SEC’s No. 1 defense, which is ranked in the top 11 nationally in each of the four major defensive categories.
USC will be without free safety Chris Culliver for the first half against the Gators after the sophomore was ejected for taking a swing at an Arkansas player with 1:18 left in the Gamecocks’ 34-21 victory. Freshman Akeem Auguste, Culliver’s backup, has a sprained ankle but should be OK to play, Spurrier said.
Offensively, Spurrier plans to stick with the two-quarterback system he used against the Razorbacks, though he would not say whether Chris Smelley and Stephen Garcia would alternate every play as they did Saturday.
“We don’t want to give away our game plan, but we definitely are going to try to play both of our quarterbacks,” Spurrier said. “They probably both deserve to play, and maybe letting them play half the game — however we decide to do it — is a good way.
“It takes a lot of pressure off of ’em. Neither one of ’em were very tired at the end of the day.”
Smelley, who improved to 9-4 as a starter, completed 9 of 19 passes for 148 yards and a touchdown — a 66-yarder to tight end Jared Cook. Garcia was not as sharp, hitting 4 of 11 attempts for 71 yards and a touchdown, with one interception.
So while others chronicle his second trip to the Swamp in enemy colors, Spurrier will spend this week fine-tuning his offense and trying to get his quarterbacks ready to face one of the top teams in the country.
“It’ll always be a special place for me,” he said. “But when the game gets ready to go, Steve Jr. and I, and really all of us coaches, are involved in the play calling and all that. So that’s where my mind usually is all throughout a ballgame.”
Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.