How Steve Spurrier Can End Nick Saban's Dominance Over the SEC in 2013

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How Steve Spurrier Can End Nick Saban's Dominance Over the SEC in 2013

What if rather than Kevin Sumlin, Les Miles, Will Muschamp or Mark Richt, Steve Spurrier is the guy who will dethrone Nick Saban as the king of the SEC?

Yes, what if the “old ball coach” beats out his younger compatriots and shocks the world by winning the conference and ascending to the BCS title game in 2013?

The climate of Saban worship would become an atmosphere of Spurrier adoration.

Think about it, what’s more impressive, “just another Crimson Tide title” or Spurrier taking the Gamecocks all the way to the national championship?

Keep in mind that South Carolina is a program that has won one conference title (the 1969 ACC) in its 121-year history and has never been to a major bowl game (Orange, Sugar, Rose or Fiesta).

So, what’s it going to take for Spurrier to get it done?

 

Defense

Of the last five SEC champions, only one finished the season ranked lower than No. 4 nationally in scoring defense.  That came in 2010 when Auburn finished No. 53, allowing 24.1 points per game.

For South Carolina to improve on its No. 13 rank in scoring from 2012, it will have to successfully replace three starting linebackers and two members of the defensive line.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney

Back are superstar-end Jadeveon Clowney and tackle Kelcy Quarles, along with four members of a backfield that led the Cocks to a No. 21 national ranking in pass defense.

If Spurrier can retool at linebacker—he won’t have much time, starting the season versus North Carolina and at Georgia—he’ll have a shot at leading his defense to a top-10 ranking in scoring.

This would mean lowering the points allowed per game from 18.2 last season to 15 or lower, an adjustment that could make the difference in winning the East and making the SEC title game.

 

Depth at Quarterback

With the return of a healthy Connor Shaw in 2013, as well as an experienced backup in Dylan Thompson, South Carolina should have solid leadership for its offense.

With a passer rating of 158.06, Shaw was the No. 10-ranked quarterback in the FBS last season.

Mary Ann Chastain/Getty Images
South Carolina's Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson

Thompson played in seven games and went 66-of-127 for 1,027 yards, 10 touchdowns and only two interceptions.

Behind the top two is redshirt freshman Brendan Nosovitch, who was a 3-star recruit in 2012, ranking No. 22 nationally among dual-threat quarterbacks.

This all signals tremendous depth at quarterback, which equals a backup plan in case of injury or poor play.

Throw in the return of two of the top receivers, and though the Gamecocks may not put up Oklahoma State-type numbers, they will be efficient through the air.

 

Improvement in the Running Game

The Gamecocks finished 2012 ranked a disappointing No. 91 nationally in rushing yards.

Though South Carolina has never been a rushing powerhouse under Spurrier, the 138-yard per game average last season represents a drop-off from the 154-yard average in 2010 and the 192-yard mark in 2011.

The good news is that the Cocks are set to return four starting members of the offensive line versus only two from a year ago.

With Marcus Lattimore gone (it’s key to remember that he only participated in 10 games last season), this should clear the way for Shaw, sophomore Mike Davis and sophomore Brandon Wilds.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
South Carolina RB Brandon Wilds

Wilds missed the 2012 season with a high-ankle sprain, but as a true freshman in 2011, he had three 100-plus yard games to become the team’s No. 3 rusher behind Lattimore and Shaw.

Though no one stands out as “the guy” who will rush for more than 1,000 yards in 2013, that’s precisely what the Gamecocks need to propel them to the SEC title game.

Don’t think so?  Well, the only time in history that South Carolina captured an SEC East title was also the only year since 2000 it had a 1,000-yard rusher.

The year was 2010 and the back was Lattimore, who pounded out 1,197 yards on 249 carries.

 

The Schedule

South Carolina draws Arkansas and Mississippi State from the West in 2013, leaving LSU, Alabama and Texas A&M all off the table in the regular season.

Non-conference games include a tricky opener versus North Carolina, a road trip to Central Florida and home games against FCS Coastal Carolina and Clemson to close out the season.

The biggest challenge comes early, a road trip to Georgia in Week 2 that may be the deciding factor in the East race. 

What’s good about the timing of the Georgia game is the Bulldogs' propensity under Richt to drop an early game.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
South Carolina beat Georgia 45-42 in Athens in Week 2 of the 2011 season.

Since 2007 Georgia has lost at least one of its first three games on four occasions, and twice the defeats have come against South Carolina.

The other gauntlet will come late with a three-game stretch versus Florida, FCS Coastal Carolina and Clemson.

The good news is that all three games are at home, with a bye week leading into the showdown with the Gators.

What’s even better is that the Gamecocks won’t leave South Carolina after they make their final road trip of the regular season to face Missouri on Oct. 26.

All in all, it’s a schedule that isn’t easy, but presents an opportunity for a realistic shot at perfection.

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