As the 2013 season approaches, one question remains: Can anyone in the SEC dethrone Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide? While I do not believe Saban is losing sleep over any team he will face, I do believe there is one team he fears and that is the South Carolina Gamecocks.
Texas A&M has Johnny Manziel. The University of Georgia might have the most complete offense in college football. LSU is loaded with talent.
However, the Gamecocks have something that none of those schools have—Steve Spurrier.
On paper, South Carolina has a very strong football team. They have the preseason favorite for the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL draft in Jadeveon Clowney. They have a quarterback, in Connor Shaw, who owns a 17-3 record as a starter and the offensive line returns four starters.
There is the concern of losing former SEC stud running back Marcus Lattimore. However, the Gamecocks won their final five games of last season and only had Lattimore for two quarters during that run.
The Gamecocks did lose a lot of talent on defense, but this is college football and every team has lost some key players from the previous season.With all that said, no sane person would argue that Alabama has more talent than South Carolina. They do, however, have the great equalizer in the old ball coach.
Who is Alabama's biggest threat to another SEC championship?
The truth no Alabama fan wants to admit—Spurrier has owned Saban during both of their Hall of Fame careers.
Spurrier is 3-1 head-to-head against Saban. Moreover, in those three wins, his teams have won by scores of 31, 30 and 14.
Saban's only win against Spurrier came in 2009 when the Tide beat the Gamecocks 20-6 in Tuscaloosa and that game was closer than the score indicates. Alabama only scored one offensive touchdown in the game.
The next season Spurrier would get his revenge. Alabama went into Columbia ranked No. 1 in the nation. However, South Carolina's fans enjoyed their programs biggest win ever. Never before had the Gamecocks beaten a team ranked No. 1 before the Gamecocks beat the Tide 35-21.
What is it about Saban that brings out the best in Spurrier? The answer is quite simple—pride. Before the resurgence of the Tide, Spurrier was considered by many as the top SEC coach since Bear Bryant.
Prior to Spurrier arriving in Gainesville, the team had never won an SEC championship in their 57 seasons of play. They were on probation for the second time in five years. From that, he perhaps put together the greatest rebuilding effort in the history of college football.
A program that had never won an SEC championship won six under Spurrier and an additional six top-five finishes in the national rankings. He has had his ups and downs at South Carolina but he was able to lead them to their first ever SEC East Division title.
Spurrier's massive ego led him to state this about Saban, “If he wants to be the greatest coach or one of the greatest coaches in college football, to me, he has to go somewhere besides Alabama and win, because they’ve always won there at Alabama.”
Spurrier wants to return back to the top of the college football coaching world. A win over Alabama in the SEC championship puts him back into the discussion.
The truth is that as great of a defensive mind that Saban is, Spurrier is as equally gifted schematically speaking. Saban might be the best program builder in college football history.
However, if Spurrier can take his second program that has never had an SEC championship to a national championship—He is once again in the conversation as the top college football coach of the last 30 years.