COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -Steve Spurrier wanted back in the Southeastern Conference's upper-echelon. His best chance in three seasons with South Carolina to get there comes Saturday at No. 2 LSU.
Spurrier spent the offseason trying to get the 12th-ranked Gamecocks (3-0, 1-0 SEC) to think like SEC contenders. They cleared the first hurdle with a 16-12 win at Georgia, something South Carolina hadn't done in five years. Take the next step and beat LSU and South Carolina can start talking about contending for a national championship.
That's big stuff for a program that's never won more than five SEC games and a bit much for the ball coach to ponder right now.
``I don't have to worry about that right now,'' Spurrier said when asked what beating LSU would mean. ``If we do that, then ask me that, OK?''
Spurrier was king of the SEC during 12 hugely successful seasons at Florida, his alma mater. He won six SEC crowns, played in the title game two additional times and won a national championship in 1996.
He's said numerous times the past three years he chose South Carolina when he returned from the NFL to accomplish things that hadn't been done before in Columbia. So far, he's made good on his intentions.
His debut season featured a school-record five-game SEC winning streak and South Carolina's first victory in Knoxville over Tennessee. He followed that up with a win in his first game against the Gators.
The Gamecocks ended last season with three straight victories - something the school hadn't done since 1973.
Throughout spring practice, summer workouts and fall camp, Spurrier kept upping his team's focus. No longer was it good enough to come close to big success, as the Gamecocks had done in 2006 when they lost by a touchdown or less to SEC powers Auburn, Tennessee, Arkansas and Florida.
In fact, it was the week after ending the SEC season at 3-5 (Spurrier's first losing SEC mark) with a dramatic 17-16 loss at The Swamp that Spurrier first publicly spoke about his players thinking like SEC champions.
Gamecocks star linebacker Jasper Brinkley says their coach's words took root during the offseason.
``We're going to go in there focused on one common goal and that's to win,'' Brinkley said.
Not so fast, his coach warns.
Spurrier joked about how the Gamecocks got into the national rankings because only their game against Georgia was on TV.
South Carolina's offense was inconsistent and downright awful at times in its other two games, wins over Louisiana-Lafayette (28-14) and South Carolina State (38-3).
Quarterback Blake Mitchell had four of the team's six turnovers. Spurrier, the offensive whiz, has had to curtail his wide-open attack.
Spurrier knows the Gamecocks can't win a high-scoring game in Death Valley against LSU.
The Tigers have outscored opponents this year by an average of about 43 points. Their defense leads the SEC, allowing less than half the average yardage than the second-best group in Georgia.
``We don't have to beat LSU to still be in contention, you know that?'' Spurrier said. ``And I told our guys that. We're not going to go down there and if we get beat, hang our heads. There's a lot of ball left.''
South Carolina has only a few football highlights since joining the SEC in 1992.
The Gamecocks best chances at reaching the league's title game came in 2000 and 2001 - and both were dashed by Spurrier's Gators.
South Carolina was ranked 21st when it came to Florida Field seven years ago. A win would've given the Gamecocks an edge over No. 5 Florida in the SEC East. Instead, the Gators overcame a 21-3 lead to win 41-21 and go on to Spurrier's final league crown.
The next year, South Carolina was 14th in the country and a home win over Spurrier's fourth-ranked team might've meant the division title.
South Carolina coach Lou Holtz was at his motivational best and Gamecock fans wore all-black as a statement of solidarity. The result: Florida 54, South Carolina 17.
The Gamecocks haven't been close to the top again - until now. But LSU is a two-touchdown favorite with South Carolina given little chance.
``Everybody said the same thing about Georgia'' running back Cory Boyd said. ``We like to be the underdog every time we go in. It makes for a good upset when we go out there and do it.''

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