Evolution Of Spurrier
South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier used to be known as the "Fun-n-Gun" innovator when he was the head coach at Florida from 1990-2001. Spurrier called a game more geared toward slinging the ball all over the field, which helped Florida win the 1996 national title and quarterback Danny Wuerffel win the 1996 Heisman Trophy.
My, how things have changed.
The arrival of running back Marcus Lattimore and dual-threat quarterback Connor Shaw to the South Carolina program in 2010 forced Spurrier to go with a more conservative approach, and the result was one SEC East title and three straight 11-win seasons—the first three 11-win seasons in program history.
"I don't know for sure, but I'd imagine there's some tension between wanting to win period and his love of throwing the ball," Wuerffel said at media day for the new College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta. "There's been times where they've won some big games, and I called to congratulate him after big wins, and he says 'Well, we couldn't even throw it in there, we had to run it.'"
Wuerffel points to the more complicated running schemes in this age of dual-threat quarterbacks that have challenged Spurrier to evolve with the times.
"They way that they're running the ball and the sophistication is different," he said. "I think everybody, as they get older, mellow out a little bit; although some people find that hard to believe because he's still so dynamic."
The Gamecocks' offense will be more "old-school Spurrier" in 2014, with a more traditional pro-style quarterback in Dylan Thompson, a solid receiving corps led by Shaq Roland and a Heisman Trophy candidate at running back in Mike Davis.
Don't be surprised, though, if Thompson runs more than he's expected to, and Spurrier blends the old with the new.
High Praise From Coaches
The SEC coaches released their preseason All-SEC team Thursday night, and it's quite similar to the media's picks that were released at SEC media days in Hoover, Alabama, in July—with a few notable, and appropriate, exceptions.
There were some predictable choices. Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall is listed as the first-team quarterback, Georgia running back Todd Gurley a first-team running back and Alabama safety Landon Collins a first-team safety.
But the coaches got more first-teamers right than the combined poll of us assembled members of the media in Hoover. Which differences stood out as the right choices for the coaches?
- South Carolina running back Mike Davis was picked as the coaches' other first-team running back rather than Alabama's T.J. Yeldon. Davis doesn't have the careers stats of Yeldon but was an absolute workhorse for the Gamecocks last year, rushing for 1,183 yards and 11 touchdowns in an offense that absolutely needed him to be a star. Yeldon got bitten by the fumble bug, losing four (in key situations, no less), and is fighting for carries this year with Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake.
- Arkansas defensive end Trey Flowers is a first-team defensive lineman over Auburn's Gabe Wright. Flowers had 44 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and five sacks a year ago and is a complete defensive end who's strong against the run and pass. Wright is a defensive tackle by trade who will play some defensive end this year in Auburn's "rhino" package. He's a great player for sure, but Flowers is more versatile right now.
- Both the media and coaches missed on one first-team offensive lineman—Alabama's Arie Kouandjio. Kouandjio was hit or miss last year and was particularly lost in the season opener vs. Virginia Tech and the Sugar Bowl vs. Oklahoma. He's a better guard than consensus second-teamer A.J. Cann of South Carolina? I don't think so. Cann has been a big part of South Carolina's success on the ground, and rarely—if ever—has been a liability.
Going With Experience
Vanderbilt's quarterback race was one of the more underrated position battles of the summer, with sophomore Patton Robinette, redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary and LSU transfer Stephen Rivers vying for the top spot on the depth chart.
First-year head coach Derek Mason announced the winner Thursday night, and it was the only player with starting experience—Robinette.
"I'm excited for Patton as we prepare this team for the season opener next Thursday," Mason said in a statement. "Patton has really made strides and consistently improved from the spring to now. I believe he has worked to earn this opportunity."
Robinette started three games last year and played in 11, throwing for 642 yards, four touchdowns and five picks, and his season included a road win at Florida.
Surprised? USA Today's Dan Wolken is.
Robinette starting for VU makes previous Tweet obsolete. Had been some talk McCrary was ahead. Robinette is TN native.— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) August 22, 2014
These are uncharted waters for Mason, though, and having a quarterback who knows what to expect in the SEC is a huge benefit to a Vanderbilt team that is undergoing a rather significant transition in Mason's first year.
Robinette's ascension to the top of Vandy's depth chart means that LSU and Alabama are the only two teams in the SEC without starting quarterbacks for the 2014 season.
Uncertainty On The Plains?
Auburn has a starting quarterback for the season, but its starter for the season opener still is up in the air...at least in theory.
Gus Malzahn has yet to name sophomore Jeremy Johnson the starter against Arkansas while full-time starter Nick Marshall serves his punishment for his July citation for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana.
"If I worried about anything about that, we'd have already done it, but we don't worry at all," Malzahn said Thursday, according to James Crepea of the Montgomery Advertiser. "We'll have a good plan. Our guys will respond well. We know our guys pretty well."
He knows his guys pretty well, and he also knows who's going to start against the Hogs—Johnson. He was solid last year as a freshman, completing 70.7 percent of his passes (29-of-41 passing) for 422 yards, six touchdowns and two picks, earning SEC Freshman of the Week honors against Western Carolina and Florida Atlantic, according to his Auburn bio.
Malzahn was high on Johnson at SEC media days in July.
"The great thing is we got Jeremy Johnson, who could start for a lot of teams around the country, probably a majority of them," he said.
Malzahn's reluctance to name Johnson the starter for the opener is likely just a case of motivation, nothing more and nothing less.
Another Brick In The Wall
Remember when the absence of carriage deals for the SEC Network were all the rage?
Ah, the good 'ole days.
The Sports Business Daily reported on Thursday that Verizon FiOS has agreed to carry the now week-old network on its expanded basic tier in SEC territories. According to the report, Cablevision—which doesn't operate in SEC territories—is the only top 10 distributor that hasn't signed on.
With just under a week to go before the first football games on the network—Texas A&M at South Carolina and Temple at Vanderbilt—that makes the launch of the SEC Network one of the most successful in television history.
ESPN and the SEC Network brilliantly used the power of ESPN and Disney, coupled with a strategic plan to sign deals in a specific order, to put pressure on the market and get the network as much exposure as possible.
Not bad, SEC Commissioner Mike Slive. Not bad at all.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.
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