COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina finishes up spring practice with its annual spring game on Saturday, and then the Gamecocks will enter the voluntary offseason workouts phase of their preparation for the 2014 season.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier will enter a different phase as well.
He calls it “golf season.”
“I don’t play at all during the football season,” Spurrier said. “So it’s my time to get out and enjoy golf, although I don’t play nearly as much as people seem to think I do.”
While other coaches brag about their around-the-clock work habits, Spurrier realizes the importance of down time.
It seems to work for him.
Spurrier will begin his 25th season as a college head coach with a record of 219-79-2, including a 77-39-0 record in nine seasons at South Carolina.
He’s only had one losing season, and that was his first one at Duke in 1987.
Apparently, he doesn’t lose much at golf, either.
Golf season for Spurrier begins just after the end of spring practice and carries on through most of the summer until the team reports in the fall.
Although he is not a member of Augusta National, he plays the course once a year as a guest of a member. This year, he’s bringing along Gamecock defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward.
And then there is the ongoing “Spurrier challenge.” Any current player who wants to take Spurrier on in a round of golf is free to do so. The player gets one chance only.
He has never lost to a current player.
“My latest victim was [former Gamecock placekicker] Ryan Succop,” Spurrier said. “Of course he played on the golf team in high school, hits it about 300 yards. So we went out, I shot 77 that day and he shot 79. He triple bogeyed one of the par-three holes.
“Those guys get a little nervous when they’re playing the head coach.”
If Spurrier is nervous about the Gamecocks continuing their recent success, he doesn’t show it.
South Carolina has finished 11-2, including a bowl victory, and ranked in the top 10 each of the last three seasons.
It’s an unprecedented run of success for the Gamecocks, who prior to Spurrier’s arrival had one 10-victory season and three bowl victories to their credit in more than 100 years of football.
Has the wave crested? Can the Gamecocks keep it up, or even improve on what they’ve done? Can they win a conference championship? Compete for a national championship?
“That’s the next thing we haven’t done,” Spurrier said. “Winning the bowl games and finishing in the top 10 three years in a row, we’re proud of what we’ve done here. But we still want to win the SEC. If you win the SEC, you’ll be in the final four of the national championship playoff.”
Are the Gamecocks good enough?
“You never know until you start playing the games,” Spurrier said. “We lost a lot of key players in [quarterback] Connor Shaw and [wide receiver] Bruce Ellington and [defensive end] Jadeveon Clowney. But we’ve got some players coming back, so who knows how it’s going to be?”
The players are taking their cue from Spurrier.
“Of course the talent is here,” said junior tailback Mike Davis, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season. “We have a great quarterback in Dylan Thompson, talent at wide receiver, a lot of guys who stand out. We’ve got to see how it all looks in a game. You can never rule us out.”
Thompson, a fifth-year senior, gives the Gamecocks an experienced hand at quarterback.
“We’ve got a chance to be good, but a lot of teams right now have a chance to be good,” Thompson said. “At the same time, I think it’s really important what we do from right now until August 28th. We want to put in the work until then and focus on that.”
Neither Davis nor Thompson is likely to get much work in Saturday’s spring game, which will follow a casual format.
The game will be played in 12-minute quarters.
“The year before I got to Florida, they divided up into teams and had a steak and beans game,” Spurrier said. “Emmitt Smith carried 31 times in the spring game trying to win it for his team. We don’t do that.
“We’ll let the younger guys do most of the playing. It’s a chance for most of the young guys to show the coaches they can play. The defense will only rush four guys so hopefully we’ll get off some passes.”
The game will also feature what has become a spring game staple for Spurrier—a receiver stepping off the sideline to illegally catch a long pass.
“It’s going to be a little different this year,” Spurrier said. “It’s going to be a surprise. We have a surprise, celebrity catcher on the off-the-bench play.”
There’s one other note on the spring game. It begins at noon, and the clock will run continuously in the second half.
Chances are, the head ball coach has a tee time.
Unless otherwise indicated all quotes obtained first hand.
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When it comes to college football players, there's a certain pecking order for hype bestowed on the various classes.
The junior class tends to get the most recognition, since it's loaded with the best of the draft-eligible standouts whom we expect to see playing on Sundays next year. That's followed by the seniors, the veteran unit that's stuck it out all four years and will be relied on for experience and leadership.
Next come the freshmen, a class full of promise and (often) overwhelmingly high expectations. Their exploits at the prep level are considered a blueprint for how they'll perform in college.
And that leaves us with the sophomores, collectively the least regarded of the classes, despite being home to the previous season's top first-year players. And that was a heck of a group in 2013, which makes the 2014 sophomore class one of the best in the game in some time.
Here's a look at the top 50 sophomores heading into the 2014 season.
At 5 p.m. Saturday, April 12, the new look, new coached Boise State Broncos are hoping to break a spring scrimmage attendance record. Coach Bryan Harsin has been actively campaigning for a crowd of at least 20,000 to take over Bronco Stadium for the annual blue and orange spring game.
If that were to happen, it would be a tremendous accomplishment. However, even if the number was to fall a bit short, it should still be an exciting day on The Blue.
Boise State is in the process of installing a brand new offense and defense this spring, and although scaled down, this will be the first time the public will get a look at the progress.
In the midst of this transition, there are some key position battles brewing, and some new talent trying to impress. The spring game gives some of the key players a platform to show coaches and fans alike what they can do.
Let's look at five of the players who will be doing all they can to make waves on The Blue this Saturday.
When not considering whether players can unionize or the ramifications of the Rutgers and Maryland athletic departments joining the Big Ten this summer, a big portion of offseason news has focused on new coaching salaries. Seemingly all over the Big Ten, strike that, all over the East Division, head coaches and assistants are garnering huge paydays.
But does this more help the Big Ten keep up with the SEC, or does it more create a competitive disparity that will unbalance the new divisions over the next few years?
Hopefully, the West Division steps up and gives deserving coaches a big payday as well, especially following the new television contracts signed in a couple years. That would moot this potential issue.
But count me among the "hesitant to believe it" camp when it comes to increased spending. If an athletic department can find a way to pinch a penny to blow that dollar somewhere else, it will.
So let's take a look at some of the top salaries in the Big Ten as of 2014, and where that leaves the balance of competitive power between the new divisions.
Michigan State likely made the biggest waves of the offseason in salary news by giving Mark Dantonio a huge pay increase up to $3.7 million. Dantonio has stayed loyal to East Lansing for almost a decade, and his proven success of double-digit wins in three of the last four seasons speaks for itself.
Plus, winning the first Rose Bowl since 1984 and finishing in the top three in the country certainly doesn't hurt when your school has to compete against the image of being a "little brother" to Michigan and perhaps even to Ohio State. That provides a huge interest boost in the football program and sells more season tickets, which leads to a pay bump.
But the size of the pay bump was notable, as Dantonio made less than $2 million in 2013. His old salary would have made him the lowest-paid coach in the SEC (Mark Stoops, $2.2 million at Kentucky, for the record), but his new salary puts him among the elite coaches nationwide. Dantonio would now be close in salary to elite SEC coaches like Guz Malzahn and Steve Spurrier, for example.
He is now firmly entrenched in the $3 million-plus club, which includes six B1G coaches: Urban Meyer ($4.8 million), Brady Hoke ($4.3 million), Kirk Ferentz ($4.0 million), James Franklin ($4.0 million), Dantonio and Bo Pelini ($3.1 million). Those numbers are at least competitive with the SEC, the gold standard for paying coaches.
But note that four of those salaries, and four of the top five, belong to the top football programs of the East Division. Only Iowa actually competes with the coaching pay at the head coach level, and Kirk Ferentz's salary and buyout have become a bit of a joke nationally, so it's hard to count him.
Why else would Bret Bielema bail a dominant position to get more pay for his staff at a train wreck of a program in the SEC? It's all about money, and the Big Ten has finally realized that.
The top assistant coaches are also getting huge paydays, mostly in the East Division. The top-paid assistants include MSU defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, who was bumped to $905,000 this offseason; new hire Michigan offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who will receive $857,000; Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison (about $850,000); Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck (over $700,000) and Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell (over $600,000).
Once again, four of the top five paydays go to East Division teams (and Penn State may also pay this well, although the institution does not report that information publicly). If nothing else, it is clear that Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State blow away what the other league competitors are paying for coaches, which means better coaches will stick around longer or come into the Big Ten, like Chris Ash and Nussmeier from the SEC this season.
With the extra money put into the assistant coaching staff as well, Michigan State is now one of only three schools that pays more than $3 million total for the assistant coaching staff. The other two are Ohio State and Michigan. See a trend? The West Division probably does.
Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois and Purdue will at least find more company than just Indiana on the bottom end of the assistant coaching staff pay list when Rutgers and Maryland join the Big Ten. Maryland currently pays Randy Edsall's staff comparably to these lower-tier pay scales in the conference, while Rutgers pays like a mid-major rather than a BCS conference program.
For example, Kyle Flood earns less than $500,000, and he's the head coach. However, Rutgers is not the team that the West Division needs to worry about. Instead, it's the three known (and likely four counting Penn State) powerhouses running away with higher coaching salaries that will be sitting in the way of Big Ten titles when the West Division champion goes to Indianapolis each December.
Nebraska and Wisconsin are the only assistant coaching staffs making about $2.5 million a year or more, and that is relatively a baseline amount for retaining competitive talent away from more lucrative schools and better pay in head coaching and coordinator positions.
Of course, these schools also need to pay head coaches enough to run good programs and encourage those young coaching talents to develop at the Big Ten schools as well. Right now, discounting Iowa and the infamous Ferentz contract, the only head coach in the West Division making much more than $2.25 million is Pelini at about $3.1 million.
The other five head coaches (Pat Fitzgerald, Gary Andersen, Darrell Hazell, Jerry Kill and Tim Beckman) all make about $2.0 million. That is certainly good money, but it simply does not compare to the top of most BCS leagues and all of the SEC.
So even though Kill now makes more money and Andersen received a raise, these numbers are not coming close to the four top programs in the East Division. Right now, that may not make much of a difference.
But if you let that disparity sit for a number of recruiting classes, then the West Division will inevitably lose more good assistant coaches (and possibly head coaches), leading to more turnover and lower likelihood of top recruiting classes. Meanwhile, the East Division will show recruits stability and a commitment to compete for the College Football Playoff.
Does higher coaching pay lead to better results on the field? It certainly seems that way, but it may be a self-fulfilling prophecy: As programs stay more consistent and make more money, athletic departments will spend more money to give coaches a fair piece of the pie, and the cycle repeats.
It is definitely true that going too low on the pay scale can be disastrous when it leads to too much coach turnover. Of course, lower and mid-tier programs have to be careful to not commit too much money to unproven coaches, as a long rich contract with a hefty buyout can hamstring a school's future decisions. So there is risk there to go with the potential reward.
If four of the top five paying athletic departments continue to be in the East Division over time, then in five years, these seemingly unbalanced divisions (now) could be a real balance problem.
As painful as it seems, the solution is simple: The West Division has to step up and pay more. Otherwise, the Big Ten Championship will be decided most seasons well before two teams make a trip to Lucas Oil Stadium.
That's not a good situation for the conference, or the fans.
Thanks for reading! I am the Featured Columnist focusing on Big Ten Football for B/R.
You can follow me on Twitter, and please leave comments below regarding whether you think the current coaching pay disparity will have long-lasting competitive balance consequences.
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College football is a cyclical sport, and just when you think there can't possibly be a better player than Joe Quarterback over here, a Mr. John Football (no relation to Manziel) comes along.
The Pac-12 will be highlighted by the sensational talents of Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley and others, but perhaps more fun will come from discovering new players waiting in the shadows, hoping to be discovered.
We're not talking about the players primed to take that natural step forward, either. We're looking at the sleepers who will step into the spotlight and put up big numbers. Think wide receiver Jaelen Strong in 2013 or Ka'Deem Carey from the year before.
So who will begin to create their true legacy in 2014?
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