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September 24, 2013
Steve Spurrier grasps the importance of Saturday's ABC nationally televised noon showdown in Orlando to the growing UCF program.
Two weeks after the Knights knocked off Penn State, 34-31, in Happy Valley to stay unbeaten, the next "biggest game in school history" is set for Bright House Networks Stadium, which has a capacity of slightly more than 45,000.
So, even though UCF's home stadium is approximately the same size as Vanderbilt's in Nashville, Spurrier postulates his team will be challenged by the passionate atmosphere inside the sold out "ballpark," most of whom will be dressed in gold and black and there to lustily cheer on the Knights, undefeated after three games for the first time since 1988.
Undoubtedly, UCF and its supporters will be fired up for the opportunity to snap USC's 17-game regular season winning streak against nonconference opponents, as well as post its first-ever victory over the Gamecocks and perhaps leap into the national polls.
USC won the first three meetings on the gridiron between the schools - 1996, 1997 and 2005. However, all three of those contests were played at Williams-Brice Stadium.
"UCF is a team that is sky high," Spurrier said Tuesday during his weekly press conference at Williams-Brice Stadium. "A lot of people down there say this might be the biggest game they've ever had in the history of the school. If they win, they have an opportunity to jump into the Top 25. They could beat everybody on their schedule, they're that good of a team.
"So, it's a huge game for all of us. It should be something special. It's the first time they've been on network TV. We know we're going to get their best shot. We're looking forward to it just like they are. It's going to take everybody playing their best if we're going to have a chance to beat Central Florida."
In other words, comparable to most weeks in the SEC. The experience gained from facing Georgia at Sanford Stadium earlier this season should help the Gamecocks, and UCF's stadium is half the size of the one in Athens.
"We know this one's going to be in a hostile environment," Spurrier said. "Their crowd is going to be loud and screaming, but we've been in those situations before. If you're going to have a good team, you've got to go into places and beat the other team. We know what to expect. Whether or not we can do it, that's why we play the games."
Saturday's noon test in Orlando against an upbeat UCF program is the first of four road games in the next five weeks for the Gamecocks. After hosting Kentucky on Oct. 5 (7:30 p.m., FSN), the Gamecocks travel to Arkansas (Oct. 12), Tennessee (Oct. 19) and Missouri (Oct. 26) on consecutive weekends.
What are the chances USC overlooks UCF with six straight SEC games looming? Spurrier insisted the answer was zero percent.
"We prepare the same way for everybody," Spurrier said. "Twenty, 30, 40 years ago around here, people would say we can't overlook these guys. We don't overlook anybody. Last year, we prepared for Wofford just like we did for Clemson. We prepare for all of them the same and we'll prepare for this one just like we did for Georgia or Tennessee, whoever (is) down the line."
So, consider the UCF game - the front end of a home and home series with the Knights - as a preview of coming attractions for the Gamecocks. Spurrier said the players understand they must embrace a "road warrior" mentality in order to survive the next five weeks and stay in the SEC East race.
"They know the circumstances that we're in," Spurrier said. "They know it's going to be loud and it's an opportunity for South Carolina to take our football show on the road and see what we can do. Hopefully, we can play very well. It's the opportunity that's out there for us.
"We try to recruit our guys to come here and play in big games. So we should like big games and this is another one coming up."
Saturday's noon affair marks the fifth time Spurrier, still a legendary figure in the Sunshine State, has coached the Gamecocks within the Florida peninsula since the beginning of the 2010 season - twice at Florida (2010, 2012), Capital One Bowl (Nebraska) in Orlando, and Outback Bowl (Michigan) in Tampa were the first four. USC was 3-1 in those games.
"Going into Florida, maybe I get a little extra kick going into the state and competing against a team down there since I did coach a bunch of games there," Spurrier said. "But it's South Carolina versus Central Florida and once the ball is kicked off, it's our team trying to beat their team and trying to get the best plays in at the right time and trying to make sure our players are prepared to play."
Defensively, UCF is allowing an average of 12.7 points per game. The Knights opened the season with convincing wins over Akron (38-7) and Florida International (38-0) before holding on for the emotional high-profile road victory at Penn State on Sept. 14. UCF is allowing 119.3 rushing yards per game and an average of 3.6 yards per rush.
"The defense is sound. They disguise their coverages well," Spurrier said. "Penn State did score 31 against them, but they had a big lead. Sometimes when you get a good lead early, the other team comes back a little bit. They try not to give up big plays like all defenses do and play with super effort. Their kids are flying around and very seldom out of position. They play a lot of similar coverages that a lot of schools do and they play them well."
* Spurrier lauded former USC and LSU head coach Paul Dietzel, who passed away early Tuesday morning at the age of 89. Dietzel served as the Gamecocks' director of athletics (1966-75) and head football coach (1966-74), compiling a 42-53-1 record in his nine seasons. He is the only football coach in school history to win a conference title as the 1969 team captured the ACC crown.
* Early weather forecasts predict partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the low to mid 80s for Saturday's noon kickoff. "It's supposed to be a good hot day down there. I told Jadeveon, 'you need to get in better shape,' Spurrier joked.
* Spurrier said USC focused on kickoff coverage and punt returns during the bye week.
* Spurrier said Cody Waldrop practiced a 'little' on Monday night. The decision on whom to start at center - Waldrop or Clayton Stadnik - should be made by Thursday. "Hopefully, we'll have it settled," Spurrier said. "He (Waldrop) practiced a little last night. He's not 100 percent yet, but we'll make that decision probably Thursday. They're both sort of alternating in practice right now, and we'll go from there."
* Spurrier on defensive ends Clowney and Chaz Sutton, bothered by foot problems in recent weeks: "They were running around OK yesterday and should do everything today. They're ready to go."
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