"We've raised our goals this year. We're going to try to win the conference…. We've added a lot of players that we think are at a pretty close level with Florida, Georgia and Tennessee…. We feel like our talent level is good enough now that we should say, ‘Hey, let's go try to win our conference championship.'"
Based on past experience, the assembled reporters knew to expect anything from The Ol' Ball Coach. Still, Wednesday's opening remarks left them a little surprised.
"We celebrated like little school girls," star tailback Cory Boyd recalled. "We finally see that our coach believes in us … believes that we can get the job done."
Spurrier offered very little in the way of optimism during his first two years at the Gamecock helm. He promised to upgrade the program over time but cautioned that progress might be slow.
Now the head man says South Carolina is ready to challenge Florida, Georgia and Tennessee for supremacy in the SEC's Eastern Division. That type of proclamation from an SEC coach – even one as outspoken as Spurrier – is big news.
"It's definitely exciting," Boyd said. "He's always big on trying to do things for the first time and trying to have bigger goals. You can't really win something unless you install it in your mind, and I think that's what he's trying to do with us."
Spurrier's team has given the SEC East's Big Three some problems already. The Gamecocks beat Florida and Tennessee in 2005, then came within a blocked field goal of beating the Gators again in '06.
"We were close last year," linebacker Jasper Brinkley said. "We've been working hard this offseason, and it's time for that hard work to pay dividends. We're looking to take advantage of the opportunities we have and to compete this year."
Competing is one thing. Winning the division is another story. Are the Gamecocks really ready to challenge for an SEC title? Spurrier insists they are.
"I know it will be a huge assignment," he said, "but I believe our players need to come to the ballpark feeling we're just as good as Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, and that we can play with those guys and see what happens."