South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier looms over SEC Network's first game

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier looms over SEC Network's first game

August 27th, 2014 by David Paschall in Sports - College

South Carolina will unveil an 85-foot-high banner of head coach Steve Spurrier on the side of Williams-Brice Stadium before the Gamecocks meet Texas A&M on Thursday night.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

The 2014 college football season awaits.

As does a larger-than-life Steve Spurrier.

The Southeastern Conference season will commence Thursday night when No. 9 South Carolina hosts No. 21 Texas A&M. It's the debut gridiron matchup of the SEC Network, and it's the coming-out party of an 85-foot-high banner of Spurrier that has been installed on the side of Williams-Brice Stadium.

South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner wanted Spurrier to be on the banner, leaving the quick-witted 69-year-old a little unsure of what to think.

"Hopefully we can keep winning there at Williams-Brice," Spurrier said in a news conference this week. "I don't want people coming by there throwing eggs at it, and that could happen. If we go bad, that could happen, but hopefully we're not going to go bad.

"We're a team that has prepared well during the summer. I believe we can compete at a high level, but we've got to wait to find out."

Though the Gamecocks and their 33-6 record the past three seasons have them new to the sport's elite after decades of mediocrity, they are very much the veterans of this hyped opener on the league's fledgling television platform. The crafty Spurrier is as successful as ever, and he will be dialing up plays for an offense loaded with experience.

South Carolina returns four starting offensive linemen, including preseason All-America guard A.J. Cann, and the Gamecocks have Mike Davis, Shon Carson and Brandon Wilds back at tailback. Quarterback Dylan Thompson is a fifth-year senior who has won games at Clemson and at UCF, and he can throw to returning receivers Damiere Byrd and Shaq Roland.

Cornerback is the biggest question for the Gamecocks, while the Aggies enter with far more unknowns but with heralded newcomers eager to prove their value. Receiver Speedy Noil and cornerback Armani Watts are true freshmen who have cracked Kevin Sumlin's starting lineup, while classmate Myles Garrett is expected to figure prominently at defensive end.

Garrett was rated this past winter by Rivals.com as the No. 2 overall prospect nationally and has drawn comparisons to former South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

"The challenging part of this deal is having a number of young players and how they react on the road," Sumlin said last week in a news conference. "We're playing a team that knows what it's doing. You don't win 11 games a year without being good across the board."

South Carolina has won a nation-leading 18 consecutive home games, but Spurrier is impressed with Texas A&M having lost just two road games -- at LSU and Missouri last November -- since entering the SEC before the 2012 season.

Thursday night's showdown has not lacked for build-up on the SEC Network, which will show Vanderbilt hosting Temple in the dawning of the Derek Mason era as the second game of a league doubleheader.

"They show that commercial of me getting off the bus and Coach Spurrier getting off the bus every 10 minutes," Sumlin said. "If you can't get up for this, then you're in the wrong business."

Festivities for Thursday's matchup actually begin late this evening, when Texas A&M will hold its Midnight Yell on the steps of the South Carolina State House. The Midnight Yell tradition dates back to 1931.

"I read about that," Spurrier said, "but I've been more concerned about blocking this guy Myles Garrett when he's roaring off the end."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.