Will Muschamp will coach South Carolina on Saturday at Steve Spurrier-Florida Field. In other words, it’s been a hectic 24 months.
The last time the Gamecocks played in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Muschamp coached the Gators and Spurrier was South Carolina’s coach. The Gamecocks won that game 23-20 on Nov. 15, 2014, and Muschamp was fired the next day. Spurrier lasted nine more games as South Carolina’s coach before resigning, and Muschamp was hired as his replacement in December of last year.
And that brings us to Saturday.
South Carolina, which is 5-4 overall and 3-4 in the SEC after beating Missouri 31-21, plays at No. 22 Florida (6-2, 4-2 SEC) at noon in Gainesville, Fla. The field there was renamed in honor of Spurrier in September.
“If anybody knows me, they know this game is really important to me because of our players and the University of South Carolina,” Muschamp said Sunday night. “That’s No. 1. That’s just the way it’s going to be for me. I know that’s boring and you don’t want to hear that, but that’s the way I feel.”
Muschamp was 28-21 in four years at Florida after the Gators hired him away from Texas, where he was head coach-in-waiting behind Mack Brown.
“I’m sure there will be a lot of questions about us going back to Florida,” he said. “We had four great years at the University of Florida. I have tremendous respect for the university, for the program. I grew up in Gainesville. I grew up a Gator. I have tremendous respect for (former athletics director) Jeremy Foley and Dr. (Bernie) Machen and the wonderful opportunity they gave us. We have great memories. We have great friends who are still friends to this day. In this profession, if you don’t win enough games, you get fired. That’s part of it. There’s no hard feelings. There’s no animosity. There’s no grudge. It’s part of our profession.”
Saturday will be Senior Day for the Gators, whose seniors all were recruited by Muschamp. As of Sunday night, he hadn’t heard from any of his former Florida players, and didn’t know how he would handle pregame Saturday.
“We will cross that bridge when we come to it,” he said. “I haven’t heard from anybody, but seeing those guys on the field and having been in their living room and recruited them… I didn’t realize it was going to be Senior Day until today.”
Muschamp’s familiarity with Florida’s personnel will help the Gamecocks some, but not much this week, he believes.
“In some areas it can help you, but at the end of the day your players play the game and they have to go execute,” he said.
The Gators were listed as a 14-point favorite Sunday by the Wynn sports books in Las Vegas.
“He hasn’t said much about it,” sophomore tight end Hayden Hurst said Saturday night, “but I can only imagine. I don’t think coach will make a big deal out of it, but I think it gives us as players playing for him a little bit more motivation.”
There’s plenty else at stake Saturday. The Gamecocks are one win away from bowl eligibility, and still mathematically alive in the SEC East race. South Carolina would have to beat Florida and get some help from Kentucky and Tennessee as well, and the scenario is so complicated that Muschamp hasn’t even discussed it with his team.
“It’s an important game for us because it’s an Eastern Division game,” Muschamp said. “I’m not going to go over all the scenarios with our team for the simple reason that it doesn’t matter. We need to go win the game against a good football team on the road. My emphasis for our team is to take the next step in our program with our team, and that’s go beat a good football team on the road.”
Quarterback Jake Bentley and wide receiver Deebo Samuel were the offensive players of the game against Missouri. “Both guys played at a high level,” Muschamp said. “They have a really good rapport in the passing game.” Zack Bailey and Mason Zandi were the offensive linemen of the game. Defensive tackle Taylor Stallworth and cornerback Rashad Fenton were the defensive players of the game. … Running back A.J. Turner (knee sprain) is probable to play against Florida. … Offensive lineman Donnell Stanley, who has missed eight games due to an ankle sprain, “should be close to 100 percent” Saturday, Muschamp said.
Who: South Carolina at Florida
When: Noon, Saturday
Where: Steve Spurrier Field; Gainesville, Fla.
Line: Florida by 13