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December 5, 2010

Spurrier Gets Another Shot At Seminoles

When he was the head coach at Florida for 12 years (1990-2001), Steve Spurrier squared off with Florida State annually in a bitterly contested rivalry game that typically had national championship implications.

This time, a bowl game trophy and momentum heading into the off-season will be on the line.

South Carolina (9-4) and Florida State (9-4) both accepted invitations Sunday night to the Dec. 31 Chick-Fil-A Bowl at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, possibly giving Spurrier one final opportunity to coach against the Seminoles before concluding his Hall of Fame career.

Since nine years have elapsed since Spurrier last coached against the Seminoles - he once referred to the FSU as 'Free Shoe University' - he contended Sunday night that any ill will he once felt against Florida State has been washed away by time.

"When I was a Gator, we didn't like FSU and they didn't like us," Spurrier said Sunday night during a teleconference announcing the Chick-fil-A Bowl matchup. "But I'm a Gamecock now. I haven't coached for Florida for nine years now, so things have changed a little bit. I don't have anything against Florida State. I've admired the work Coach (Jimbo) Fisher and his staff has done. This is not an animosity game. We're just two teams trying to get that last win to go into the off-season on a big high."

Spurrier sparred with Florida State publicly throughout the 90's, even accusing the Seminoles one year of intentionally trying to hurt the quarterback.

"We had a nice rivalry, but one year they're tried to hurt the quarterback and I didn't like that very much," Spurrier said. "It was irritating. But that's all history. It all happened a long time ago. I really admire Jimbo Fisher and everything he does there. They run a first class program and they're going to be pretty good."

Spurrier is 5-8-1 against Florida State during his coaching career.

"It was one of the greatest rivalries in all of college football," Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher recalled. "Whoever won that game at the end of the year was usually in the national title hunt. Coach Spurrier brought Florida back into the limelight of college football. Now he's doing a great job at South Carolina."

The Chick-fil-A Bowl, scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff on New Year's Eve, matches up the SEC and ACC runners-up for the first time in bowl history.

The defenses for the two teams yielded a total of 100 points in the SEC and ACC Championship games.

"They didn't play very well in the ACC championship like we didn't play very well at all in our championship," Spurrier said. "We're both going to try to regroup and get a bowl victory. Again, it should be a heck of a game."

These days, Spurrier is focused more on his own team and preparing the players for each game. However, the last two bowl games for the Gamecocks have produced lethargic performances and double-digit losses to Iowa (31-10) and Connecticut (20-7). USC's last bowl win was a 44-36 victory over Houston in the 2006 Liberty Bowl in Memphis.

After last year's discouraging loss to the Huskies at Legion Field in Birmingham, Spurrier hoped to prepare differently the next time USC played in a bowl game.

"I don't know how we're going to change things a lot", Spurrier said. "We're going to coach our butts off for a month and see if we can be very competitive. I've been doing this for a long time now and we've practiced the same way each year. Hopefully, we can get our guys to the level where they really want to compete."

Even though USC will be playing in the Georgia Dome for the second time in less than a month, Spurrier views the bowl game as an opportunity to get further acclimated with the environment in case the Gamecocks return to the SEC Championship Game next season.

"Clearly, if we're going to win the SEC Championship, it will happen in the Georgia Dome, we all know that," Spurrier said. "Hopefully, we can play a very good game there. But we weren't very competitive the other night. We need to learn how to play in the Georgia Dome. We have to go there and compete. We hope to be there again. As far as I'm concerned, it's one of the great events in all of college football."

Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher, approaching the conclusion of his first year as Seminoles head coach, said the status of starting quarterback Christian Ponder for the Chick-fil-A Bowl hasn't been fully determined.

Ponder sat out the ACC Championship game on Saturday night because of an elbow injury that has hampered the senior throughout the past six weeks. His backup, sophomore EJ Manuel played the entire game and completed 23-of-31 passes for 288 yards and one touchdown.

"It's probably too early," Fisher said. We still have to evaluate his elbow and do what's right for him. I would think with the amount of time we have between now and the bowl game, he should be OK. But we'll have to evaluate if there are any procedures or anything else that needs to be done. But right now it's too early to make that call."

Florida State scored first in Saturday's ACC Championship game with a field goal, but the Hokies responded with three touchdowns over a 13-minute span bridging the first and second quarters and never trailed in the final 52 minutes.

"We had a chance to win a championship and we had a chance to win the game, but we didn't make the plays," Fisher said. "We can't feel sorry for ourselves too long because we're playing a great team with a great coach. When you go against a Steve Spurrier coached team, you know you have to dot your i's and cross your t's. Our kids will be up for the challenge. We'll be ready on Dec. 31.

Ponder, the ACC's third highest rated QB in passing efficiency, led Florida State to three straight wins to close out the regular season and capture the ACC Atlantic Division title. For the season, he completed 62.2 percent of his passes (183-of-294) for 2,038 yards and 20 touchdowns with eight interceptions.

The Chick-fil-A Bowl's total cumulative payout is $6.7 million. The ACC representative receives a slightly higher share than the SEC team under the bowl's agreements with the respective conferences.

Because USC (No. 20 in latest BCS rankings) and Florida State (No. 23) are both ranked, the Chick-fil-A Bowl is one of only three non-BCS bowl games to feature two nationally ranked teams.

Between QB Stephen Garcia, RB Marcus Lattimore and WR Alshon Jeffery, Fisher knows the Seminoles defense will have their hands full trying to stop the Gamecocks offense.

"South Carolina is, of course, great on offense and they have dynamic playmakers all over the place," Fisher said. "Lattimore can run the heck out of it and you have Jeffery and all the receivers they've got with big-play potential. They're defense is great against the run."

Besides Spurrier's familiarity wiith the Seminoles, USC wide receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. and Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops worked on the same staff at Arizona in 2004 under Wildcats head coach Mike Stoops.

Since reaching agreements 18 years ago to matchup teams from the ACC and SEC, the conferences are now tied at 9-9. Virginia Tech evened the tally with a 37-14 victory over Tennessee last December.

The Chick-fil-A Bowl makes a $100,000 donation to the general scholarship fund of each school when bowl week arrives.

What: 43rd Annual Chick-Fil-A Bowl
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Ga:
When: Dec. 31, 2010, 7:30 p.m.
Series: Florida State leads 15-3
Last Meeting: 1991
Records: USC (9-4), Florida State (9-4).

BCS National Championship Game (Jan. 10) - Auburn v. Oregon, 8:30 p.m.
Sugar Bowl (Jan. 4) - Arkansas v. Ohio State, 8:30 p.m.
Capitol One Bowl (Jan. 1) - Alabama v. Michigan State, 1 p.m.
Outback Bowl (Jan. 1) - Florida v. Penn State, 1 p.m.
Cotton Bowl (Jan. 7) - LSU v. Texas A&M, 8 p.m.
Chick-fil-A Bowl (Dec. 31) - USC v. Florida State, 7:30 p.m.
Gator Bowl (Jan. 1) - Mississippi State v. Michigan, 1:30 p.m.
Music City Bowl (Dec. 30) - Tennessee v. North Carolina, 6:30 p.m.
Liberty Bowl (Dec. 31) - Georgia v. UCF, 3:30 p.m.
BBVA Compass Bowl (Jan. 8) - Kentucky v. Pittsburgh, Noon.

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