COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -Steve Spurrier thinks it's about time South Carolina challenges for the Southeastern Conference title.
Guess what? So do his players.
``Everything's in place for us and I think he's realizing that,'' tailback Cory Boyd said Sunday. ``Now, we realize it, too.''
Spurrier has spent a good part of his first two seasons demanding a bigger commitment and more intensity from his players. Too often, he said, some Gamecocks wouldn't show the desire to improve that he was accustomed to.
These days, Spurrier was pleased with what he says was increased effort in offseason workouts and crisper play as the Gamecocks began fall camp this past weekend.
Spurrier began touting the increased goals last fall. The Gamecocks were fresh off a dramatic 17-16 loss to national champion Florida at The Swamp. But instead of bemoaning the team's 3-5 SEC record - the first sub-.500 conference mark of Spurrier's stellar career - the ball coach spoke of upping the goals for next year.
The confidence showed down the stretch as South Carolina closed with three straight victories for the first time in 33 years.
Nothing has happened since the Gamecocks' 44-36 Liberty Bowl win over Houston to deter the optimism.
``I know coach doesn't say anything that he doesn't believe and if he feels like we have the opportunity to win the SEC, then that's what we're going to shoot our goals for,'' South Carolina defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix said.
Spurrier's not guaranteeing anything.
Last month, the Gamecocks were given their typical slot in preseason polls - fourth in the SEC Eastern Division behind some combination of Tennessee, Florida and Georgia.
``We're still guys learning,'' Spurrier said.
Spurrier said Sunday he thought it was the best conditioned group he has had at South Carolina. They worked about 2 1/2 hours in the sweltering Palmetto State heat ``and nobody fell out'' from exhaustion, Spurrier said.
``We either got a smarter bunch of guys or we've got some who invested the time in learning some plays this summer,'' the coach said with pride.
Spurrier felt the increased goals pumped up the players, particularly upperclassmen like Boyd and linebacker Jasper Brinkley who considered the NFL draft but returned for their senior seasons.
``I think it made our summer workouts a little bit better,'' Spurrier said.
Spurrier thought the older players led newcomers through drills and taught them what it takes to succeed.
Spurrier's incoming freshmen class was ranked among the country's 10 best by many recruiting analysts so it was important for upperclassmen to start them on the right path, Boyd said.
``If you say it enough, you got to start believing and that's what I think everybody is doing right now, even the young guys,'' Boyd said. ``That's what they're coming here for ... to try and win an SEC championship and we feel as though we can do it.''
Spurrier thinks his coaches have the players and the program pointed in the right direction. ``We've got a chance, we've got a chance to be big time around here,'' he said.
Ryan Succop, a junior who made the preseason all-SEC team as a punter and a place-kicker, said Spurrier's focus since last fall motivated the players to work harder than they ever had. ``I think it definitely inspired us that someone with his experience thinks we definitely can win the SEC,'' Succop said.
Spurrier said when he took the job in November 2004 that historic success would not come overnight. Even now, he's not abandoning other goals like an unprecedented third-straight bowl game, the school's third-ever season of 9 or more victories or two-in-row over Clemson, which hasn't happened since the Gamecocks won three consecutive from 1968 to 1970.
``But if we're in position and things go well early, it's not going to shock us that we have a chance'' to win the SEC, Spurrier said. ``And I certainly think we can.''

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