Head Ball Coach crosses paths with the 'Noles again

Nine years after his final game in Gainesville, Steve Spurrier will renew a long and bitter rivalry with Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on New Year’s Eve.

The last time the former Florida head coach faced the Seminoles, he cruised to an easy 37-13 victory at The Swamp. But that wasn’t even the major story from that encounter.

Steve SpurrierICONSteve Spurrier is certainly familiar with the Florida State program after leading the Gators for so many years.

Over the next few days, Spurrier accused FSU defensive lineman Darnell Dockett of intentionally trying to injure some of his Gators.

That prompted Dave Hart, the FSU athletic director at the time, to express how many Seminoles fans — and a lot of college football fans in general — felt about the Head Ball Coach. “It would probably be good if somebody just spanked [Spurrier] and put him to bed and hoped that he wakes up all grown up.”

Oh, those were the days.

Once again, Spurrier and Florida State will cross paths on a big stage. But this time, Jimbo Fisher is the head man in Tallahassee, not the legendary Bobby Bowden — the same Bowden who once had a football thrown toward his head by Gators quarterback Doug Johnson during a pregame brawl.

And Spurrier is no longer head of the Gators. Instead, he is the face of the South Carolina program.

But those are just minor details.

Many Seminoles supporters feel that Spurrier continued to look down at FSU upon taking the head job in Gainesville, much like he and his teammates did while playing for the Gators in the 1960’s. After all, Florida State was once a women’s college that only started a football program in 1949.

Spurrier recently admitted that he did hate the Seminoles in the past, but that those days are over. Coaching in Columbia after his stint with the NFL’s Washington Redskins, he maintains that his history with the ‘Noles is just that — in the past.

While that may be true, the stakes will be high when the Gamecocks and Seminoles meet at the Georgia Dome in a battle of BCS-conference runner-ups. South Carolina earned a spot in the SEC title game for the first time since joining the league in 1992, while Florida State advanced to the ACC title game in Fisher’s first season.

In his sixth season at South Carolina, Spurrier finally notched his signature win in Columbia, knocking off defending national champion and then-No. 1 Alabama. And he led the team to victories over all of the major East division powers: Georgia, Tennessee and his former Florida program. Rival Clemson was also a victim. And while the East may have been down this year, wins are wins. Division titles are division titles. And you can be sure Spurrier doesn’t mind one bit that he took advantage of a “down” year in the vaunted SEC East.

Stephen GarciaICONStephen Garcia finally broke through this season at QB.

Perhaps the biggest reason for the success of the Gamecocks in 2010 was Stephen Garcia, who finally grasped the quarterback position after repeatedly being challenged by the Ball Coach, both on the field and through the media. Things clicked for Garcia this season, with all the hard work culminating in the victory over the Crimson Tide — the first time in program history the Gamecocks were able to knock off the nation’s top-ranked team. He threw for over 2,800 yards and 20 touchdowns this season, and he finally became a leader on an offense that desperately needed one.

But as good as Garcia has been, the Gamecocks would not have won the SEC East without freshman sensation Marcus Lattimore. The 6-0, 218-pounder is not only a load to bring down, but he opens up the passing game for Garcia to be able to find stud wideout Alshon Jeffery down the field. Establishing a presence on the ground and sticking with it will be crucial, especially to help avoid the Seminoles pass rush on third-and-long situations. Lattimore has proven in wins over Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Tennessee that he has no problem being a workhorse back.

If there’s one thing we can bet on, it’s that South Carolina will be energized from the opening kick, unlike the last two postseason appearances where it looked like the players didn’t even want to be at the game. We’ve seen the Gamecocks play their best in big games, with the exception of the SEC championship. But as we know, Auburn is a different animal. And surely the Gamecocks never want to experience anything like the second half of that contest ever again.

And they won’t, not against Florida State on Friday night. Because as we’ve seen throughout the season, this team is different. This isn’t the same underachieving bunch of Gamecocks.

Garcia is different. The offensive attack is different. And with a win, expectations will be different, which is a good thing for this program.

Email dave.miller@nationalfootballpost.com or follow me on Twitter at Miller_Dave

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