HOOVER, Ala. – South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier loves golf.
He loves it so much, he mentioned a specific professional golfer when asked about how much thought he put into walking away from football after last season. Dustin Johnson three-putted on the 72nd hole to finish second to up and comer Jordan Spieth at this year’s U.S. Open. The second place finish entitled him to an appearance at the trophy ceremony, but he never showed up.
“Gee, the guy just three-putted from 12 feet. He just said, ‘I needed to get away,'” said Spurrier about Johnson who played college golf at Coastal Carolina.
Spurrier had a couple of quick postgame press conferences after blowing leads to Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri last season. The Gamecocks also lost four of five games in the middle of the season.
“Hopefully people can understand, some losses are tougher than others, especially when you have a good lead and you can’t hold it,” Spurrier said.
South Carolina rebounded down the stretch though and won three of its final four games, including a 24-21 win over Miami in the Duck Commander Independence Bowl to finish with a record of 7-6.
Spurrier said the victory rejuvenated him and the team, and his players are happy to enter the 2015 season on a positive note after starting a year ago in most publication’s Top 10.
“It’s always a good feeling coming into the season on a winning note, rather than a losing note,” junior wide receiver Pharaoh Cooper said who led the team with 69 receptions, 1,136 yards, and nine touchdowns last season. “We’ve got confidence coming into the first game.”
Spurrier and the Gamecocks will be looking for a new quarterback this season, as Dylan Thompson – who passed for 3,564 yards and 26 touchdowns last season – completed his college career last fall.
Spurrier was hoping to figure out his quarterback situation during the spring, but said none of the three candidates separated themselves.
“We’re going to keep competing during preseason practice. We’ve got a month before the first game, so we should be able to figure out who can play the best,” Spurrier said.
Sophomore Connor Mitch, junior Perry Orth, and redshirt freshman Michael Scarnecchia all took reps at the quarterback position during the spring. The Gamecocks also add freshman Lorenzo Nunez to the roster this fall.
Spurrier expects to play for all four quarterbacks and isn’t above using two of them for the entire season if needed.
“You can win with two,” he said. “There’s nothing in the rule book that says you have to have one.”
The biggest Achilles heel for Aggie coach Kevin Sumlin since coming to the SEC has been LSU.
The Tigers have beaten the Aggies the last three seasons and the Tiger defense shut down a potent Aggie offense, as A&M scored less than 20 points in all three contests.
So Sumlin took a unique mindset as he hired defensive coordinator John Chavis away from LSU.
“We’ve studied the defense. We get it. We struggled,” Sumlin said. “It’s a great fit for us and a great fit for him. He was ready for a new challenge.”
The Aggie defense struggled last season as they gave up just over 28 points, 216 rush yards, and just under 235 passing yards per game. Chavis had some good defenses in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Sumlin wants to see that in College Station, Texas immediately.
“His knowledge of opponents, his knowledge of the league helps me as a head coach, but it also helps our team and brings confidence right away to a defense that really needed it,” said Sumlin, who saw LSU levy a lawsuit against Texas A&M for poaching Chavis.
The Aggie defensive players have already warmed up to Chavis and it started from the first day he walked in.
“I think the immediate difference is probably in ‘attacking personality,'” senior defensive lineman Julien Obioha said. “First day he walked in and he said, ‘You do all these workouts and you do all this 7-on-7 in the summer to win a championship. No school in the SEC West should be afraid to say they are doing all this work to win a championship’.”
Although expectations are always high in Knoxville, Tennessee, Volunteer head coach Butch Jones has seen the expectations change for this upcoming season.
Those expectations rose with how the team ended the season on a good note by going 4-1 down the stretch and beating Iowa 45-28 in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida.
“This year is different for each and every player in our football program. But really that’s what you want,” Jones said who starts his third season at Tennessee this fall. “You want the expectations to be exceptionally high. That’s why they chose to come to Tennessee to play in a program that has high expectations.”
The Volunteers went 5-7 and finished sixth in the SEC East in Jones’ first season. Tennessee improved last year going 7-6 overall and finishing in a tie for fourth in the East.
The Volunteers will more than likely go as junior quarterback Joshua Dobbs does this season. He finished his sophomore season completing 112-of-177 passes for 1,206 yards and nine touchdowns in six games. He drew five starts.
Dobbs split time with Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman last season, but he will be the man this season. Playing as a freshman and last season have him prepared for what he will face this season.
“I have done a great job putting myself in various situations, just in practice getting ready for this upcoming season,” said Dobbs, who was also recruited by Mississippi State. “We are excited for this upcoming season and taken a lot of steps forward this last season and throughout this offseason, so we will be ready to go come September.”
Ben Wait is a sports writer for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @bcwait
Ben Wait reports on Mississippi State University sports for The Dispatch.