Spurrier excited about Thursday spotlight
First, the commonplace: after playing on Thursday just twice in six seasons under Lou Holtz, the Gamecocks will be making their fourth weeknight appearance in Steve Spurrier's first three seasons, with another three Thursday nighters scheduled in the next two years.
Now, the uncommon: The matchup between the 8th and 11th ranked teams in the country is the first time since 1984, when #5 USC defeated #11 Florida State 38-26, that two teams ranked in the top 11 have played at Williams-Brice Stadium. The last time two teams ranked anywhere in the Top 25 played in Columbia was 2001, the infamous blackout game where #14 Carolina fell to #4 Florida 54-17.
There is a reason why the Gamecocks have played so many Thursday games under Spurrier: he likes them.
"I like the opportunity to play on national TV," said Spurrier. "Most coaches are like me, we watch about every Thursday night game. The players around the country watch Thursday night. When we finish practice here, I usually tell the guys there's a good Thursday night game on, everybody be in by 11 o'clock [curfew]. There's a good football game to watch, so that'll give you a reason to stay in."
When ESPN first began showing college football on Thursday nights, the games were typically the domain of the MAC or Conference USA. The big schools were unwilling to disrupt their schedules to play at a time when they did not think people wanted to watch football. Coaches soon realized, however, that the national spotlight provides invaluable exposure to fans, writers, and recruits. Some schools, like Virginia Tech, have become well known for playing home games on Thursdays. ESPN has had such success with the Thursday night game, that they now show games on Friday night, and, this week, Tuesday and Wednesday night as well. Spurrier is not a fan of the Friday night games, however.
"I think we ought to leave that night to the high schools," he said. "We've got a Friday night game going all the time now, which I'm not sure if that's the best thing to do or not. That would be like the NFL starting to play on Saturdays. [College coaches] wouldn't like that."
ESPN is undoubtedly thrilled to be airing the biggest game in Columbia since 1984, but the executives at the Worldwide Leader probably did not think they would be getting such a high-profile game when they made the schedule. Kentucky has not been ranked in the Top 10 in over 30 years, while the Gamecocks have not been ranked this high since 2001. It is a far cry from recent years where the two teams saw each other as a guaranteed win.
"Usually this game, what did it mean?" Spurrier asked rhetorically. "Somebody won, somebody lost, and somebody's still in position to win six [games]. That's the way we were the last two years. Now it's more meaningful. Kentucky, they're a lot like us. They're used to being in the bottom half of the SEC East. Now all of a sudden we've got one of the big games in the conference. We've [certainly] got the biggest game on Thursday. The ratings should be pretty good, especially if it's a good, close game down to the wire, which it easily could be."
Spurrier emphasized the importance of playing meaningful games late into the season. One of the reasons he declared a goal of competing for the SEC Championship this season was because he wanted his players to know that every game is important as they work toward that goal.
"That's what we want to have is meaningful ballgames instead of just trying to win six and go to a bowl," he said. "Kentucky is in the same boat. They're looking forward to it, and we are too. It could be one of the best games we've had around here in a long time. I know ESPN is excited to have a game that is so meaningful for television.
There is always worry with a short week that the team does not have enough time to prepare like they normally would. Spurrier scoffs at that notion, and after he had been asked one too many questions about the short week, he teased reporters about their concern.
"You know, in basketball sometimes they play like three or four nights in a row," he said. "Nobody ever asks the coach, ‘With just a day to prepare, what are you going to do?' The only reason football needs time off is that guys get banged up a little bit. As far as X's and O's, we could play in two days. We all have our offenses. We all see how the other team has their general scheme of things. We could go play tonight if we had to. I think that's overrated, the short week, unless you've got some ankle sprains or bruises and things like that. Sometimes they need five to seven days to get completely healed."
"It's about a normal week, really," explained Spurrier. "On [a normal] Monday you don't do a whole lot. You do a little special teams and let the down the line guys [reserves] scrimmage. On Tuesday and Wednesday you practice [in a normal week], so we'll practice on Monday and Tuesday [this week]. On [a normal] Thursday you mess around on special teams and review, so we've got plenty of time."
All that being said, Spurrier smiled and admitted there is a potential downside to playing on a Thursday night.
"You get to showcase your team on national TV, and it's some extra money for the schools involved. It is good for national exposure, recruiting, if you have a good game," he said, and then he added, "If you get clobbered, it's not very good obviously."
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