Trading Places: USC replaces Vols in top half of SEC East

jkendall@thestate.comOctober 18, 2013 

  • Gamecocks vs. Volunteers

    WHO: USC (5-1, 3-1 SEC) vs. Tennessee (3-3, 0-2)

    WHERE: Neyland Stadium, Knoxville, Tenn.

    WHEN: Saturday, noon

    TV: ESPN

    RADIO: WNKT-FM 107.5

    SATELLITE RADIO: Sirius 91/XM 91

    LINE: USC by 7.5

Steve Spurrier, as he sometimes does, reminisced this week.

“In 1982, Duke vs. Tennessee,” South Carolina’s coach said. “They had a defensive end named Reggie White playing. Willie Gault at wide receiver. Reggie had a bad ankle that night and was not that effective against us. It was one of the most fun games I’ve ever coached. Duke, we won the game 25-24. We ran out the last nine minutes and 30 seconds from our 1-yard line to their 1-yard line. We only threw one pass in that drive to run out the clock. So that was my first time to ever coach at Knoxville, Neyland Stadium.”

Tennessee fans probably wish the good ol’ days rolled as freely off their tongues … and any days were good compared to these. As South Carolina slowly has shouldered its way into the top half of the SEC East during Spurrier’s nine seasons, it is the Volunteers who have moved aside to make room.

“Well, it’s certainly what we hoped to do,” Spurrier said of taking away what for a long while seemed like a Big Orange birthright.

From 1992, when the SEC split into divisions, until 2007, Tennessee finished in the top half of the East 14 years in 16 chances while the Gamecocks did it three times. The Volunteers have managed that once in the past five seasons, while the Gamecocks have done it three seasons in a row.

Georgia, Florida and Tennessee have all fallen from grace at times during Spurrier’s tenure, but only the Vols have stayed down. Tennessee — which won 72 games in the 1970s, 71 in the 1980s, 99 in the 1990s and 85 in the 2000s — is 2-16 in its past 18 SEC games. It is 3-3 overall and 0-2 in the SEC as it gets ready to host the No. 11 Gamecocks Saturday at noon in Neyland Stadium.

“It has helped us not to lose South Carolina athletes to Tennessee the way it probably happened prior to ’04 or ’05, somewhere in there,” Spurrier said. “Historically, some good players would leave our state and go to FSU, Georgia and Tennessee, schools like that. It’s beneficial to keep the best players in the state.”

The Volunteers played in the SEC Championship Game in 2007 and beat Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl later that season, but since losing 27-24 in overtime to begin the 2008 season, the Volunteers have been ranked one week. They are on their third coach since firing Phil Fulmer following the 5-7 2008 season.

The current Gamecocks hardly remember there was a time — from 1903 to 2007 — when South Carolina beat the Volunteers three times in 26 tries.

“I don’t think you can pay too much attention to that,” senior quarterback Connor Shaw said. “In the SEC, on any given day, you can lose. It doesn’t matter how much Tennessee has struggled in recent history. We know that Tennessee has had our number before Coach Spurrier got here.”

The Gamecocks have won four of five in this series since 2007.

“I guess it is new territory, but if you feel like you’re a winner, it’s not,” spur Sharrod Golightly said.

Spurrier has talked a lot this week about the Volunteers’ tradition and the size of their 102,455-seat home stadium. Less so, about the team they field.

“Tradition-wise they are still one of the powers in the nation,” Spurrier said.

That’s the only way, though.

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