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USC eager to solve woes vs. top-10 foes

University of South Carolina QB Stephen Garcia scrambles downfield against Florida Atlantic in the second quarter at Williams Brice Stadium in Columbia, SC on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2009.
University of South Carolina QB Stephen Garcia scrambles downfield against Florida Atlantic in the second quarter at Williams Brice Stadium in Columbia, SC on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2009.

Tori Gurley was attending New Hampton Prep in New Hampshire two years ago when he watched South Carolina defeat No. 8 Kentucky in a Thursday night game televised by ESPN.

Shortly after the broadcast, Gurley called former USC defensive coaches Tyrone Nix and Ron Cooper and committed to the Gamecocks.

The lesson: Never underestimate the power of TV - and the impact of beating a top-10 team on a night when there are no other games on.

USC takes center stage again this week when No. 4 Mississippi comes to Columbia for an ESPN, Thursday night matchup. Somewhere, an undecided high school prospect will be watching.

"That game inspired me to commit to this school," Gurley said Tuesday. "So, hopefully, if we can get this win, we can pick up big-time recruits and show the country we're a team to be reckoned with."

The Gamecocks have had plenty of weeknight TV exposure since Steve Spurrier arrived before the 2005 season. USC has appeared on ESPN's Thursday night package seven times, posting a 5-2 record.

USC has not fared as well in big games under Spurrier. The Gamecocks are 1-7 against top-10 opponents and are winless in four tries against top-five teams in his four-plus seasons.

The Gamecocks' overall record against top-five teams is 1-31, the win coming at No. 3 North Carolina in 1981. USC has not beaten a team ranked higher than No. 6 at Williams-Brice Stadium.

"Not only would it be a big win for us, but it'd be a big win for the university," senior receiver Moe Brown said. "It falls right into line with the new Carolina theme that we've got going this week - trying to do things that haven't been done around here before. That'd be one of them - to play one of the top-echelon teams and beat them."

Because of Ole Miss' uneven performance and the caliber of its first two opponents, Memphis and Southeastern Louisiana, some observers have questioned whether Houston Nutt's squad deserves its lofty ranking.

"At times, I think they have not been all that impressive," said Spurrier, who beat Ole Miss in Oxford last year. "But again, sometimes we all play to the level of our opponent."

The Gamecocks nearly upset No. 21 Georgia two weeks ago before falling 41-37 when Stephen Garcia's fourth-down pass was broken up at the goal line in the final minute. The loss dropped Spurrier's record to 5-13 against ranked opponents at USC.

There are other big games on the horizon: The Gamecocks have upcoming games against No. 1 Florida and third-ranked Alabama.

Gurley hopes the Ole Miss game will serve as a springboard.

"Winning on Thursday would be huge for the school and the football program, because it's going to give us the confidence to play these other contenders as well," said Gurley, USC's leading receiver with 180 yards on 12 catches. "Our goal is to get to the SEC championship, and Ole Miss is in our way."

Though Gurley mentioned a conference title, Spurrier has avoided placing such high expectations on a young team that includes only nine seniors.

"We're not putting any kind of pressure on our guys. We're going to go out and play and try to have a lot of fun and play better," Spurrier said. "That's our goal for the year, is play better one game to the next. So far we have not put a total game together: offense, defense, special teams."

The Gamecocks will have the opportunity to do so Thursday in front of a captive football audience.

"It's the only game on," Gamecocks cornerback Akeem Auguste. "So you know pretty much the world's going to be watching that game."

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