Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks might have knocked SEC out of national title picture

By John Feinstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 11, 2010; 7:27 PM

South Carolina football Coach Steve Spurrier is not an e-mail guy. Those who wish to write to him about something need to use the United States Postal Service.

Spurrier may need to hire some extra help to open all his fan mail this week, after the Gamecocks beat a top-ranked football team for the first time in history Saturday, dominating Alabama from the start en route to a 35-21 victory.

There also might be a note or two from the lovely folks at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis, who no doubt were not thrilled when Spurrier, in a postgame interview, made mention of the fact that his team was "only a 61/2- or 7-point underdog" in trying to emphasize that his team's victory wasn't completely surprising. Point spreads, as we all know, do not exist in NCAA World.

Last, but certainly not least, Spurrier might get a note from Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive. There may be a congratulations buried in there somewhere, but the real message will be this: "What in the world are you doing to my league, Ol' Ball Coach?"

The OBC and his team changed the tenor and tone of the entire college football season with their victory Saturday. Alabama's droning, seemingly inexorable march to a second straight national championship is over. The Crimson Tide are going to need a lot of help to get back to the national championship game, and that may mean the end of the SEC's four-year run of national champions.

Auburn and LSU are still undefeated - although how LSU has managed to go 6-0 defies all logic unless you believe, as many do, that Coach Les Miles has made some kind of deal with the devil. Both teams can't go unbeaten, because they play one another in a couple of weeks. Both also have to play Alabama and LSU has a game with Arkansas. What that means is this: The likelihood of anyone coming out of the SEC undefeated is somewhere between slim and none.

There have been SEC teams that have won national titles after losses in the past. In fact, LSU won one three years ago with two losses. (See Miles, Les, Deal with Devil for further info). That could still happen this year, but it doesn't appear likely. In fact, right now, it is entirely possible that one or more undefeated teams will be left out of the BCS championship game.

(In order to save time and words, simply imagine that there is an anti-BCS rant here, culminating with, "How can you finish a regular season unbeaten and not be allowed to compete for a championship?")

There are 13 undefeated teams left in division I-A. Some will face one another. Others will find their level - LSU and Missouri certainly come to mind - and fade to their proper and deserved spots in the Outback Bowl or the equally important Sun Bowl. Or one of the 93 other corporate-named bowls.

But at least a half-dozen have realistic shots of finishing undefeated: Ohio State has to play at Wisconsin this week, a game could be challenging if only because it is in Camp Randall Stadium. The Buckeyes' toughest test will probably come at Iowa. The same is true for Michigan State, which doesn't play Ohio State this year but does have to go to Iowa. A trip to the national title game for a Big Ten team would appear to lead through Iowa City.

Oregon is unbeaten and may have already beaten the second-best team in the Pacific-10 (Stanford) although its finale with Oregon State can never be taken for granted as is the case with most rivalry games, except for Ohio State-Michigan which the Wolverines haven't won seemingly since Tom Harmon was carrying the ball.

Then, of course, there are the two teams that create debate just by their mention: Boise State and TCU. Because TCU plays in the Mountain West, which is at worst the fifth-best conference in the country , it still has several difficult games left on its schedule: Brigham Young and Air Force the next two weeks (BYU is down, but still dangerous) and a showdown game at Utah in early November. Boise State still has to win at Nevada to make a claim on a spot in the national title game.

Others who could win out include Nebraska, which plays Texas this week, and Oklahoma, which would have to go through Nebraska to do so. There's no doubt the unbeaten pool will shrink over the next few weeks, but the question now is whether it will shrink enough for an SEC team to be in the national title picture. Heck, maybe the Ol' Ball Coach can win out and play for the championship.

It is worth noting that, at 65, the OBC still calls his own plays, and his play-calling had a lot to do with quarterback Stephen Garcia looking a lot like, well, Steve Spurrier circa 1966, on Saturday.

"I still call the plays because if I didn't, I'm not sure what I'd have to do around here all week," he said recently. "I guess I'd just stand around like a lot of other coaches do and tell everyone how hard I was working."

How can you not love the OBC?

"I just hope people understand this is a really good win, but we need to build on it," he said Saturday after his biggest win since he made the mistake of becoming the coach of the Washington Redskins eight years ago. "If we can keep on winning, we'll look back on this as a really good regular-season win."

It's a lot more than that in South Carolina, which has been a national contender wannabe for years. The Gamecocks now face a classic trap game - at Kentucky - on Saturday and still have to play Arkansas and at Florida, so the OBC knows he still has a lot of work to do. Which may mean he won't have time to get to most of his mail this week.

For more from the author, visit his blog at www.feinsteinonthebrink.com.


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