Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Is South Carolina Improving?

One of the hottest debate topics among Florida fans over that past few years was whether Florida’s three most recent coaches (Meyer, Zook and Spurrier) were “improving” their respective current programs at Florida, Illinois and South Carolina.

For Meyer the answer is obvious, and beyond debate. He has made Florida substantially better.

In Zook’s case, I think it is unreasonable to think he could take perennial loser like the Illini and make them a Big 10 champion in short order (2001 aside). However, did he make the program better? Zook’s two year record at Illinois is as follows –

2005 2-9
2006 2-10

So the average is 2-9.5 for the two years.

In the 3 years prior to Zook, Illinois was

2002 5-7
2003 1-11
2004 3-8

For an average of 3-8.6.

So no, Zook has not made Illinois better.

What about Spurrier at South Carolina?

Under the Ol’ Ball Coach, South Carolina has managed the following records –

2005 7-5
2006 8-5

Average: 7.5-5

2002 5-7
2003 5-7
2004 6-5

Average for the three years pre-Spurrier: 5.3 - 6.3

So, on a three year trailing average, Spurrier has improved USC’s fortunes by 2.2 more wins, and 1.3 fewer losses.

So is that improvement?

Maybe not as much as South Carolina fans would like.

It was not so long ago that South Carolina was doing substantially better than they are currently under Spurrier. If we go back beyond 2002, we find the following records –

2000 8-4
2001 9-3

Both those years are better than Spurrier has currently achieved.

When Holtz took over the program in 1998, he suffered two terrible seasons before turning things around. The Gamecock’s fortunes improved immensely in 2000 and 2001, only to slip back to sub-par for 2002-2004.

I am admittedly not an expert on the expectations of Gamecock fans, but I do know they want two things very badly – to win an SEC Championship sometime, and to beat Clemson always.

As far as Clemson is concerned, Spurrier is .500 in two seasons, losing 13-9 in 2005 and winning 31-28 last year. Against Clemson Holtz had a terrible record, winning but a single time in 7 years. South Carolina fans I know were ecstatic last year by the win. Presumably, Spurrier can improve the Gamecock’s fortunes against their arch-foe.

As far as winning an SEC Championship, South Carolina is arguably no closer to that goal than they were under Holtz.

In the past two years, USC has finished 5th and 3rd in the SEC East, with SEC records of 3-5 and 5-3. In the three preceding years, South Carolina was 4th in 2004, 4th in 2002, and 5th in 2002, with records of 4-4, 2-6 and 3-5. In other words, there has not been a marked improvement.

South Carolina (and Spurrier) supporters like to say that the Gamecocks have been “more competitive” under Spurrier (a term Spurrier himself would surely detest).

Have they?

The following chart has the results of the South Carolina games against Tennessee, Georgia, Florida and Clemson for 2000-2006.

Since Spurrier has taken over, USC is marginally better against Tennessee, and a lot better against Florida and Clemson. But they are worse against Georgia.

But what about Spurrier’s much touted 2007 recruiting class (ranked 7th by Scout.com)?

The truth is South Carolina’s recruiting was not that bad in the year’s before Spurrier arrived. From 2002 to 2005, Scout.com ranked USC’s recruiting classes as follows –

2002 – 18th
2003 – 15th
2004 – 28th
2005 – 20th

Over that 4 year span, South Carolina averaged 16th nationally in recruiting ranking, or in the top 20% of all Division I-A programs.

In 2006, Spurrier’s first year, they ranked 33rd, however due to the probation situation left by Holtz (more on that later), that can hardly be considered Spurrier’s fault.

The problem South Carolina faces is a common problem in the SEC – the talent is everywhere. Yes, they hauled in the 7th best class this year – which places them firmly in 5th place in the SEC, behind Florida, LSU, Tennessee and Auburn (3 of which they face next year)

On a point basis, the difference is even more pronounced. Per Scout.com, the top 5 SEC teams and their points are –

Florida – 5504
Tennessee -4312
LSU - 4212
Auburn- 3770
South Carolina – 3464

In other words, per Scout.com Florida’s class is nearly 60% better than South Carolina’s.

So Gamecock recruiting has improved, but so has all of their rivals.

Finally, South Carolina faces a monster task in it’s schedule next year, among the SEC’s hardest.

Sept. 1 Louisiana-Lafayette Columbia, S.C.

Sept. 8 Georgia Athens, Ga.

Sept. 15 South Carolina State Columbia, S.C.

Sept. 22 LSU Baton Rouge, La.

Sept. 29 Mississippi State Columbia, S.C.

Oct. 6 Kentucky Columbia, S.C.

Oct. 13 North Carolina Chapel Hill, N.C.

Oct. 20 Vanderbilt Columbia, S.C.

Oct. 27 Tennessee Knoxville, Tenn.

Nov. 3 Arkansas Fayetteville, Ark.

Nov. 10 Florida Columbia, S.C.

Nov. 24 Clemson Columbia, S.C.

Essentially, with the exception of Florida, the Gamecocks have every easy SEC game at home, and Georgia, LSU, Tennessee and Arkansas on the road.

In other words, their prospects of doing much better than the past several years in the SEC East are slim indeed.

One thing Gamecock fans can rest assured of is that Spurrier will run a clean program - an obvious problem under Holtz.

So has Spurrier improved South Carolina? At this point, the jury is still out, but any current tangible improvement is minimal.

And with the SEC rising as fast or faster than the Gamecocks, an SEC title may be beyond the skills of even the Ol’ Ball Coach.


jimcaserta said...

When I went to the game in 2005 in Columbia, SC fans were 100% thrilled with Spurrier. They loved the discipline he brought, right after the embarassing brawl with Clemson, they appreciate his high goals - winning the SEC - and they loved his hold-nothing-back attitude. Beyond just wins and losses fans see that the team is playing differently than they were under Holtz. They were damn close to beating both us and Auburn, among others.

This is the make-or-break year for Spurrier. He doesn't want to middle in the SEC east, he wants to compete in Atlanta. I think he'll be gunning hard for the 1 or 2 spot in the east, and they will win some big games, probably continuing his good play against UF and Tenn. My bet is 10-2/9-3.

Mergz said...

I agree USC fans are thrilled with Spurrier, as many I have talked to say the same.

And they were totally thrilled when they beat us last year, and Clemson this year.

My personal hunch for the Gamecocks is 8-4 this year, as I think the competition is just too fierce. And it probably is a make or break year for Spurrier's patience with the whole process.

At least he has instilled some discipline there compared to Holtz.

Senator Blutarsky said...

Mergz, I agree with you about the Gamecock schedule: it's a backbreaker. I don't see more than 8 wins for USC, either.

That being said, I think Spurrier deserves a helluva lot of credit (which is a hard thing for a Dawg fan to say) for what he's accomplished to date.

Sure, the recruiting has been decent. But the talent level in Columbia simply doesn't match that in Gainesville, Knoxville or Athens. Add to that the facts that he's run a number of Holtz recruits out of the program and that he's run a completely different offensive system with different talent needs than did Holtz and I think you'd have to be impressed with the fact that the 'Cocks wound up averaging almost 400 yards a game this year (third best in the SEC, I think).

He's a blocked field goal away from being 2-0 against Florida. He beat Florida and Tennessee in the same year. Georgia hasn't done that since 1981.

He's driven to make that appearance in Atlanta to cement his legacy. No doubt it will take some breaks, as he's never going to have the talent that some of his competitors in the East will always have. But it wouldn't surprise me in the least if he pulls it off.

JJ Gator said...

As far as the Zooker goes, it's obvious that he didn't learn a damn thing about coaching to WIN during his short-lived tenure at Florida. Until he learns to better prepare his team for gameday, stops micro-managing his assistants and can make necessary adjustments at gametime "Illinoise" will never get out of the Big Ten cellar. Like it was at UF from 2001-2004, the talent he's recruiting will never develop to their full potential kindness of the Zooker.

Anonymous said...

That article shows you know very, very little about what you're talking about.

Good day