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November 24, 2010

Spurrier Focused on Clemson

What?

"Every coach and every team should always, in my opinion, play the game that week," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said during his Tuesday press conference. "I realize, in the NFL, they don't do that. Sometimes when they clinch a playoff spot, they play all the backup guys. I guess it doesn't mean much at that time.

"College, we're different than that. We play every game and we are whatever our record is at the end of the year."

Spurrier has preached since wrapping up last week's demolition of Troy that he and his No. 17 Gamecocks would not be looking ahead of arch rival Clemson to next week's SEC Championship Game. In no way, shape or form would USC discount this week's Tigers so it could be fully rested, healthy and prepared for next week's Tigers.

Refreshing to hear.

But a complete departure from what Spurrier has said in the past.

Throughout his six years at USC, Spurrier has constantly preached that any team's rivalry game shouldn't mean as much -- if the team is playing in the championship game the next week. That held a lot of water when one took into account Spurrier's shoddy 5-8-1 rivalry record against Florida State while he was at Florida.

At USC, since it was never the case of playing in a game the next week, a logical conclusion would be that the opinion would change. Not in previous years.

2009: "We've all said or I've said, everybody's said, that if we're not in the SEC championship game, obviously this is the biggest game."

2008: "I always said your in-state rival game is your biggest game of the year, unless you're playing for the conference championship. So we're not doing that, so hey, it's the biggest game of the year."

2007: "If you win the conference championship, you order a ring and your name is in the history books forever. When you beat your in-state rival, you've got bragging rights for that year but the next year, you start all over again."

2006: "Yeah, yeah, I said that. If we had a choice to be SEC champs and beat Clemson than not be SEC champs, I'd rather be SEC champs."

2005: "There's a lot on the line. But you've got to keep it in perspective that it is a football game, somebody's going to win and somebody's going to lose."

At Duke, Spurrier was 3-0 against rival North Carolina. But the Blue Devils knew they would have to beat the Tar Heels to win the ACC championship, unlike the SEC-ACC rivalry the Gators and Seminoles share.

Also unlike the other rivalries, Spurrier projected grand things for his Gamecocks, but previously never went into the rivalry game knowing he was going, or even had a chance of playing in, the SEC championship the next week.

A 1-3 record during his first four games against Clemson led to questions about taking the rivalry seriously enough. It was then that folks remembered Spurrier took down all of the "Beat Clemson" signs around Williams-Brice Stadium when he first arrived.

A 34-17 win at home last year eased a lot of the concerns, especially when the Tigers were coming off a long winning streak that had their offense firing on every cylinder, and were headed to the ACC Championship Game the next week.

The situation has been reversed this year. Now, it's the Gamecocks going to the conference title game while the Tigers are looking for something to save what's been a trying season. Perhaps that, and the simple fact of saying the Clemson game isn't as important as any other game never sitting too well in Columbia, brought the switch.

Either way, Spurrier and his players swear USC will be ready on Saturday. There are still goals to accomplish.

"Records, weeks before, rest of the season doesn't really matter when it comes down to this," fifth-year senior Spencer Lanning said. "It's all about who wants it more and we're going to go up there and prove we want it more."

Lanning could be a rare three-time winner against Clemson, claiming a victory against them during his redshirt freshman year and last year. It would be especially sweet to him, after growing up a Clemson fan due to his grandfather once helping former Tigers coach Danny Ford with recruiting and having a sister that works for the Clemson athletic department.

Spurrier says he wants that for his boys as much as they do.

"We are what we usually do against our in-state rival," Spurrier said. "One school, one group of fans and one team is going to have bragging rights for the entire year. There's a lot on the line every year. The same thing is true this year."

Even with, for the first time, a bigger game next week.

USC-Clemson Game Week sponsored by Mallard Orchard Hunt Club

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