On the opposite sideline was a familiar face, Tennessee Coach Phillip Fulmer, who is now 3-8 against Steve Spurrier. And among those in attendance was Peyton Manning, the former Volunteers quarterback who never beat a Spurrier-coached Florida team in his college career.
Almost everything suggested Spurrier was again in his comfort zone Saturday night at Neyland Stadium, where he has now led three different programs -- Duke, Florida and South Carolina -- to victories over Tennessee. The only thing missing was his trademark visor.
All week Spurrier talked to his new South Carolina team about "making history," winning in Knoxville for the first time in school history. Yesterday, Spurrier called the gritty 16-15 victory a "memory of a lifetime" for him and his players.
"I can assure you they'll remember it" forever, Spurrier said in a conference call. "I will, too."
It was a victory that put South Carolina (5-3, 3-3 Southeastern Conference) within one win of becoming bowl eligible. It also could prove a defining game for Spurrier's program, which is less than a month removed from a 48-7 defeat at Auburn on Oct. 1. The Gamecocks have not lost since, winning three in a row against SEC competition.
Among the goals Spurrier established before the season: Reach a bowl game and beat one of the "Big Three" -- Tennessee, Georgia or Florida, the elite programs in the SEC East Division. South Carolina had come close earlier this year, losing at Georgia, 17-15, on Sept. 10.
"We had hoped to beat at least one of the three," Spurrier said. "I don't know if we can beat Florida or not [Nov. 12], but we at least won one."
Spurrier said the victory's biggest effect might be seen in recruiting. "That's what recruits want to know: 'Do we have a chance to win big?' " he said. "At South Carolina, we have a chance."
Quarterback Blake Mitchell completed 22 of 36 passes for 242 yards, redshirt freshman Sidney Rice had more than 100 receiving yards for the third consecutive game and caught two touchdown passes -- giving him 11 this season -- and place kicker Josh Brown made a career-long 49-yard field goal with 2 minutes 45 seconds remaining that proved to be the game-winner.
Earlier Saturday, Spurrier asked Brown at the team hotel if he was ready to make a game-winning kick. Brown, who is not known for kicking from distance, said, "Yes."
The result said as much about South Carolina as it did about Tennessee. Fulmer termed the performance "unacceptable," adding that blame falls on everyone from coaches to players. Tennessee (3-4, 2-4) has lost three straight games and has dropped out of the Associated Press top 25 for the first time in three years after starting the year ranked third in the preseason poll. Now the Volunteers must get ready for a game against surging Notre Dame this week.
South Carolina, on the other hand, can become bowl eligible by winning one of its final three games, which include winnable contests at Arkansas on Saturday and against Clemson on Nov. 19.
The outcome of this past Saturday's game was determined by a few critical plays and by no means was it aesthetically pleasing; South Carolina lost two fumbles, threw an interception and three times was pinned inside its 5-yard line.
Yet somehow, the man SEC fans tabbed Darth Visor emerged the winner again at Neyland Stadium. "It was meant to be last night," Spurrier said. "That's the best way to say it."
Hokies in a Tight Spot
When the BCS ratings are released this afternoon, watch the gap between Texas, which will be either first or second, and third-place Virginia Tech.
Assuming the three undefeated teams at the top win out, no one will catch Southern California for first place. The real battle is for second between the Longhorns and Hokies, who will need to make up serious ground the next two weeks to have any chance at all.
One-third of the BCS formula accounts for the six computer rankings, which should boost Virginia Tech's rating because the computers rely heavily on strength of schedule. The Hokies beat a Boston College team that's now 6-2, while Texas defeated an Oklahoma State team that's now 3-5.
Two-thirds of the BCS formula account for the two human polls, and there are indications that Virginia Tech narrowed the gap in this component, presumably because voters were not impressed with how Texas fell behind the Cowboys by 19 points.
Last week, Texas was 65 points ahead of Virginia Tech in the USA Today coaches' poll. This week, the lead dwindled to 54 points. The question is whether it will be enough for Virginia Tech to eventually leapfrog undefeated Texas. . . . Is there a more exciting team than UCLA, which rallied from a three-touchdown deficit midway through the fourth quarter to beat Stanford, 30-27, in overtime? In their past five games, the Bruins have come back to win four times after trailing by double-digits in the fourth quarter.
"When we go into overtime like that, it's over," UCLA quarterback Drew Olson said. "We're so confident in our red zone offense it's awesome."