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Inside the Mind of a Lesser Carolinian

If you happened to read fellow SBNation blog Garnet and Black Attack today, you probably caught me educating our brothers and sisters to the South on football up here in the Old North State. I sent him a couple of questions as well, and here are his responses:

So the Heels recently hired a coach who made a name for himself bringing a Florida school to greatness before making less-than-stellar go of it in the pros. You may be familiar with this sort of situation. The thing is, everyone outside of UNC, especially the media, seems to believe that Davis is only a short-term hire, destined for bigger and better things. Do the same rumors get floated about Spurrier, and if not, what about your situation is different?

Alas, our situation is sadly not much different.

We endured weeks of rumors this past offseason about Spurrier's intentions. Few of which, I say after having fanned the flames, seem to have been justified. (That said, Spurrier doesn't help things when he goes out and threatens to leave.)

I don't know about Davis, but there's always been one thing about Spurrier that was encouraging to me: He said he came here for the sort of challenge that South Carolina presents. He wants to go through the process of building a program that's never known true success. I think most sports people, who simply like to win, have trouble comprehending that.

But I think these types of rumors are probably a burden both UNC and South Carolina will have to endure. We're "less prestigious" schools (in terms of football) with great coaches. The normal trajectory of college football careers has them moving somewhere else, even if that's not what they intend to do.

I promise all of my questions won't be about Spurrier, but UNC fans really don't like the guy. And it's not limited to Chapel Hill -- he seems to irritate a lot of opposing fans, and wasn't too popular around the SEC when he was at Florida. What was your opinion of the man before he came to USC, and was it difficult to adjust those impressions once he was in your team's colors?

Couldn't stand him. When he beat throttled South Carolina in 2001, the greatest season since 1984 and maybe second only to that 10-2 year in all of South Carolina history, Spurrier came out after the game and essentially said it was no big deal to beat the Gamecocks, they weren't one of the elite teams in the SEC, etc. That was one of several things we held against him.

But after six years of Holtz, I was personally thrilled to have a coach that wouldn't be so content with a 16-0 lead in the first half against Georgia that he'd try to run the clock out. And I was happy to get a coach familiar with this radical concept called "the forward pass." Of course, the fact that he had six SEC championships and a crystal football in his trophy case didn't hurt.

I love the man now -- in that completely platonic way, of course. Now that South Carolina's winning, he's making the same kind of snarky remarks he made at Florida. And we actually control our own destiny in the SEC East. That said, there's at least one of my college friends I know who still roots for the Gamecocks but can't bring herself to like Spurrier.

Five of the six teams in the SEC East are in the AP Top 25, and I believe all five have been in Top 10 this year. How does that side of the conference shake out, and can any of them beat LSU in the SEC Championship?

Your guess is as good as mine. I said at the beginning of the year that there were five contenders (Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia and Kentucky), all flawed. That's exactly what we have now. The first three in that list still control their own destiny -- the other two need help, Georgia probably more so than Kentucky. Basically, if South Carolina beats Tennessee, it comes down to Florida-South Carolina to decide everything. Nobody else's scenario is that simple. I still think Florida's got the best shot, but that's nowhere near as certain as it looked a few weeks ago.

Can any of them beat LSU? Sure, if Les Miles has his normal attack of acute idiocy or if somebody comes out with a great game plan and punches LSU in the mouth early -- something that's obviously more likely if his opponent in coached by Spurrier or Urban Meyer. Otherwise, all hail the Bayou Bengals, champions of the SEC.

Spurrier's known as a passing coach, but this year's team seems to split the attempts pretty evenly between the air and ground games. For those of us who spend more time on what the basetball coach saying as opposed to our football team's opponents, is USC going to try to beat the Heels running or passing?

South Carolina will probably try to keep things pretty balanced again, though I think the passing game is going to take on a bit more importance for the rest of the year, mostly because Blake Mitchell had no business trying to run Steve Spurrier's offense. He's just too stubborn for a system that demands that you throw the ball exactly where Spurrier wants you to throw the ball in a given situation. Chris Smelley seems to have adjusted to this idea. But Cory Boyd and Mike Davis are nice safety valves to have, both on the run and on short passes.

More generally, what do you think USC has to do to win the game?

First, not go in there thinking they're going to blow UNC away. From what I've seen, the Heels have a pretty good team. Not championship caliber right now, but good enough to cause heartburn for a team that tries to overlook them. Also, it's easy to lose focus against a nonconference opponent when you're in a conference race.

Second, win the turnover battle. That's probably self-explanatory, but both these teams were helped out last week by exceptionally generous opponents. I notice that Miami threw four interceptions. (Or, the way I prefer to think of things, UNC came up with four picks.) Kentucky had four turnovers. So whoever coughs up the ball the fewest times in Chapel Hill probably has the best chance of winning.

Third, contain the Heels running game. That didn't look like it would be a huge problem early in the season, event though this is a team that's been gashed at times by Sun Belt and Division I-AA opponents. Then UNC wne and rushed for 183 yards(!) against Miami, so anything can happen on the ground.

And finally, which to you think has a better chance of happening: South Carolina supplanting UNC as the school people think about when they hear "Carolina" or replacing Southern Cal as the team the public associates with the initials USC?

Neither looks very likely right now -- though I will say that a lot of fans in the SEC think of South Carolina as USC, at least judging by the people I talk to and the Lincoln Financial graphics. And South Carolina is, at least to the AP's mind, a higher-ranked team right now than the Trojans. On the other hand, most of the "Carolina" linkage for UNC probably comes from your basketball team's success. And as long as the Gamecocks are led by Dave "Ain't the NIT grand?" Odom, I don't think South Carolina is about to supplant you on the court. So I'd say the chances are ever so slight that, if Southern Cal keeps slipping, they will come to be rightly regarded as "the other USC." You guys are probably safe.

However, the Gamecocks wills till prove they're better on the football field. South Carolina 34, North Carolina 24.