A week from Friday, South Carolina will begin preseason practices for its ninth season under coach Steve Spurrier, who has taken the Gamecocks to greater heights than ever before, with back-to-back, program-best 11-2 seasons, and a 9-5 year and a first ever trip to the Southeastern Conference championship game in 2010. Over the past three seasons, USC is 17-7 against the SEC, after going 18-22 in Spurrier’s first five seasons.
Now, can the Gamecocks take the next step and win their first SEC championship?
One guy who will play a big role in determining that is All-American defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who is almost certainly heading for the first overall position in the NFL draft after the season is over. USC needs Clowney, and though there might have been some concerns Tuesday when a report surfaced that Clowney had been in touch with a sports agency run by the rapper Jay-Z, Spurrier made it clear Thursday after his annual media golf outing that he does not have any worries about Clowney being ineligible.
“No, I do not,” he said.
USC looked into the matter and found that Clowney did not take any impermissible benefits. Clowney is allowed to talk to a sports agency if he wants to, but he can’t accept anything or agree to be represented by the agency while he is still playing college football.
“He can talk to anybody he wants to, as long as he doesn’t take anything,” Spurrier said. “He can’t take money. He can’t take anything of value from anybody. I think he knows that. It’s been preached to him since he signed with on us on Feb. 14 two years ago. He can accept everything everyone wants to give him right after our bowl game.”
Some other points Spurrier covered in his media powwow …
** There was quite a bit of buzz about Clowney saying at SEC media days that Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd is scared, because there is always buzz, logically or not, whenever someone associated with USC says something about someone associated with Clemson, or vice versa. Spurrier didn’t really have a problem with the comment, per se, but he knows there is a fine line in trash talking, even as he has come to accept it as part of the modern game.
“A comment came out about Jadeveon and his trash talking,” Spurrier said. “I’ll give you my opinion. I wish he hadn’t said it, but I don’t put a muzzle on guys talking. You’ve got to realize we’re all different. We’re not all like Marcus Lattimore. He never said a bad word about anybody. Players grow up nowadays in junior high and high school just talking a little smack. As long as it doesn’t get out of hand, I don’t have too much trouble with it. The problem is if you’ve got a loudmouth guy who doesn’t play worth a crap. Then you’ve got a problem. So some of them, we do have to say, ‘You don’t need to be talking until you can play a little bit.’
“It seems like almost every game, the referee will come over and say, ‘Coach, you need to tell your number 36 and 27 to keep their mouths shut.’ So coach Ward and those guys will bring them over and say, ‘Would you guys just play football for a while now?’ It’s sort of something they all grow up with. Hopefully they control it better. We don’t want to be a mouthy team. We’d rather be a good playing team. Hopefully that’s what we will be here as we go through the rest of the year.”
By the way, free safety D.J. Swearinger and cornerback Victor Hampton wore Nos. 36 and 27 for USC last season. Swearinger made no bones about his love for trash talking during games.
** At the other defensive end spot, Spurrier thinks Chaz Sutton “has got a chance to have a big year since he should be going one-on-one against his guy just about every play. Chaz is going to have some good opportunities.” Sutton, a senior, is finally a full-time starter.
** Spurrier said sophomore Landon Ard is ahead in the kicking competition with redshirt freshman Nick St. Germain.
** After wide receiver Damiere Byrd missed spring practices with a slight hamstring injury, Spurrier is hopeful that he and former promising recruit Shaq Roland, now a sophomore, can complement Bruce Ellington this fall.
“I did see Damiere catching a bunch of tennis balls outside the weight room the other day as I was going to the treadmill,” Spurrier said. “From what I hear, he’s worked hard on trying to be a good receiver, and catching balls and tennis balls are drills for receivers. (Roland) didn’t do a whole lot last year, didn’t have much opportunity, but I think he’s grown up and he’s ready to become a real ball player.”
** Spurrier likes the spirit of the new NCAA rule that allows officials to eject players for head-targeting hits, but he doesn’t think it’s perfect.
“We haven’t talked about it yet (with the players),” he said. “The refs will come in (and talk to the team). The only thing I don’t like about a lot of rules is it’s all judgment calls by the referee. So it puts a lot of power in the hands of the referee: Did he hit him in the head on purpose? He was going for his chest and the guy ducked his head and they bumped heads or something. But I thought the rule is good if they’re talking about a guy spearing or using the crown of his helmet to hit another guy above the shoulder pads in the head. If he’s doing that on purpose, he deserves to get thrown out of the game.
“But when those referees try to say Jadeveon hit the (Michigan) guy about right here (in the upper chest) and ricocheted up and knocked his helmet off, and they said he targeted his head, I don’t think he targeted his head. He hit him about right here (in the chest) as the handoff was occurring. Again, that was a judgment. An ACC ref said: penalty, he’s out of the game. SEC head guy said: good hit. You’ve got to ask them referees. Don’t ask me how they’re going to call it.”
** It sounds like Spurrier does not want to have a running back rotation with Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds. Davis is currently No. 1 on the depth chart, but not by much, said running backs coach Everette Sands. Spurrier would prefer to find the best back, based on how each performs in game action, and lean on him.
“You get two running backs ready to go, and the one that’s making the most yards is going to get the most carries,” Spurrier said. “We’re not into just rotating series. They’ll start out fairly even. Who starts the first game, they’ll sort of compete for that maybe through preseason practice, but they’re both going to play, and we’ll let it work its way out.”
** As for winning that first ever SEC title, Spurrier said, “Nobody is picking us, but we do have a chance. We know we’re capable. We don’t talk about it quite as much as (Clemson coach) Dabo (Swinney) does. Dabo, he’s already got national championship on the board. We’re not talking about it quite like that. I’m not saying that’s wrong. We’re talking about SEC, and if we lose about four or five games then we look like a fool talking about trying to win the SEC. If you win the SEC, you’ve got a super chance of winning the national. So we just try to talk about winning the SEC right now. If we can do that, that would be almost plenty enough, the first time ever around here for that to happen. I’m not saying (Swinney) talking about it is wrong at all. I’m just saying our goals to talk about aren’t quite that high right now.”