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April 29, 2010

BLOG: Why Bowl Loss Still Haunts Spurrier

If you've attended a Gamecock Club meeting lately or seen the video from one of Steve Spurrier's many press conferences, you know the bowl loss to Connecticut still bothers him four months later.

Spurrier was at it again Wednesday night in Sumter, describing USC's performance against the Huskies as "really lousy" and "very disappointing."

"UConn outdisciplined, outhustled, outhit us and kicked our butts pretty good," Spurrier told the large crowd. "We have to figure out why it happened and hope it doesn't happen again. We might have to get some different guys out there playing since it seems some guys don't want to play. We'll send them down the road and let them go play somewhere else.

"It's history now, but we'll never forget it."

All of that is true, of course. But why does Spurrier continue talking about such a humiliating experience?

There are a number of reasons, in my opinion.

First and foremost, Spurrier is a stern believer in the philosophy that you're only as good as your last game, whether that's the season opener or the final bowl game. If it's the latter, you've got eight months to think about it.

That's the primary reason why Spurrier is cautious entering the 2010 campaign although many college football analysts predict USC will contend for the SEC East title.

Spurrier described a conversation he had with an Atlanta radio station at the Chick-fil-A Coach and Celebrity challenge earlier this week. As soon as the question about USC challenging for the division title came up, Spurrier's response was swift: did you see us play in the Papajohns.com Bowl?

"Don't start talking good about our guys until we earn it," he said. 'And we haven't earned it. We have to do it on the field, and not just talk about it. I tried to pump up our team about three years ago, but that's not what our guys need to hear. They need to simply hear that we have potential."

Second, Spurrier believes strongly the coach should be held accountable for the performance of his players, that how they play is a reflection of the coach. Of course, the players should be held responsible as well, too, but how often have we heard Spurrier contend following a loss contend that 'we have to coach better'? Countless times.

As a subset of that, Spurrier unquestionably takes the performance of the players personally. If they play well, he's happy, but if they don't, he'll let you know about it.

In Spurrier's view, the defeat to UConn showed the USC players have a difficult time handling success. When the team arrived in Birmingham, it had been about four weeks since the resounding win over Clemson. During that stretch, no doubt, the players were reminded often by family, friends and just strangers they met on the street "how great they were."

When that happens, complacency often sets in, and Spurrier believes that might have been the case with the Gamecocks in the wake of the Clemson win.

"I don't know if a little bit of success or people telling our guys how great they were affected them, but we didn't tell them that as coaches," Spurrier insisted. "It was the students and the people they're around all the time telling them how great they are. . .We don't need to get full of ourselves if we do have a good game."

Finally, Spurrier really wanted to win the bowl game because in his mind there's a significant difference between seven and eight wins. I still recall his reaction following the Independence Bowl loss to Missouri in 2005. USC entered the game with a 7-4 record and, following the setback, Spurrier was angry some Gamecock players didn't appreciate - or worse didn't care about - the difference between finishing 7-5 and 8-4.

Spurrier wants to deliver the message that every game is important, even bowl games in frigid Birmingham against a supposedly inferior Big East team.

Remember, recruits are always watching.

Once the players absorb that lesson, and begin to understand everything that happens on the gridiron matters, USC will move forward as a football program and Spurrier won't have dwell on a bowl loss for months on end.


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