Known for occasionally making brash and candid statements in the 20 years he’s attended the event, the South Carolina coach was his usual self again Tuesday.
Spurrier drew laughs at the podium with his comments about the upcoming conference schedule, his latest obsession in remarks made to the media.
“You think I make the schedule?" Spurrier said. "If I made the schedule, Georgia will be playing LSU and we’d be playing Ole Miss.”
All slights to Ole Miss aside, perhaps Spurrier’s comment was made in jest. But since the Gamecocks were left out of last season’s SEC Championship game Spurrier hasn’t missed an opportunity to deliver his opinion on the matter.
South Carolina beat Georgia and every Eastern Division opponent last season on it’s way to the highest win total in school history (11 wins). However, losses to Arkansas and Auburn, two teams from the West, dictated Georgia play for the SEC Championship instead.
Missing the chance to play for the conference crown dampened the overall feeling of achievement.
“It was very hard. We felt like we were supposed to be in the SEC Championship game playing LSU, but we slipped up,” senior safety D.J. Swearinger said. “We took that in our own hands.”
Throughout the offseason Spurrier made the argument that games played against division opponents should hold more weight in determining which teams play for the conference championship.
Showing the matter meant more than a few passing rants, Spurrier lobbied his peers at the SEC coaches meetings in May to take a vote on the potential change.
However, the idea failed to gain support and was never seriously considered.
By now, players like quarterback Connor Shaw have moved past last season and are focusing on what is expected to be another successful season. USA Today ranked the Gamecocks No. 6 in its preseason poll.
“It’s frustrating but there’s nothing you can do about (last year),” Shaw said. “It’s out of our hands right now obviously. We’re just waiting for the season.”
Shaw didn’t spend much time in answering questions about last season’s effort. But after leaving the podium, Spurrier was still talking at length about schedules to a handful of reporters, especially when comparing his team’s 2012 opponents from the West compared to Georgia’s.
"We’ve got LSU and Arkansas,” Spurrier pointed out. “Georgia’s got Auburn and Ole Miss. Whether or not that will be a factor – it was a factor last year – but we’re not complaining about it. That’s just the way it is. That’s just the way it is. No excuses. No excuses.”
Swearinger, meanwhile, dismissed any talk on the subject. "It doesn’t matter who Georgia plays,” he said. “I think we only worry about who we play. When we play LSU, we’ll be ready for it.”
The timing of the Georgia-South Carolina game this year, which were altered by the inclusion of Missouri and Texas A&M into the conference, is contributing to the talk centering on the budding rivalry. The two teams play Oct. 6 instead of the customary early-September matchup, providing ample time for the Eastern Division race to take shape by the time the game is kicked off.
Last year proved winning one particular game doesn’t guarantee anything; a fact Swearinger says won’t be forgotten.
“That’s still in the back of our minds and we’re trying to get back to the SEC Championship,” he said.
Entering his eighth season in Columbia, Spurrier has taken the South Carolina program to an SEC Championship game (2010) and it’s first 10-win season (2011). Beating Georgia and weathering the rest of the schedule is the only way the Gamecocks can position themselves to win their first SEC Championship in school history.
“That’s our ultimate goal,” Spurrier said. “We know it’s not going to be easy. It will be extremely difficult. But that’s out goal. That’s what we’re shooting for.”
Note* This story originally appeared in the Athens Banner-Herald.