COLUMBIA, S.C. — Calling the University of South Carolina a football powerhouse sounds almost as strange as calling its new coach, Steve Spurrier, humble.
Mr. Spurrier, his football accomplishments surpassed only by his self-confidence, takes over a team that has just three bowl appearances in its 111-year history and may face sanctions for NCAA violations. His main job in the run-up to a nationally televised debut Sept. 1: lower expectations. "We don't need to be talking too big right now," he says. "[We were] picked fourth in [our division], and that's probably where we should be picked."
While a self-deprecating Spurrier overhauling a moribund program provides the most intriguing story of the new college football season, it's just one of a number of arrivals and departures that could make for a reality TV show: Extreme Makeover, NCAA Coaching Edition.
• Pete Carroll of USC will try for an unprecedented third consecutive national title. But he'll do it without offensive mastermind Norm Chow, who left for the NFL. Cushioning that blow will be the return of Heisman Trophy quarterback Matt Leinart and running back Reggie Bush, the college game's most explosive player.
• In South Bend, Ind., Notre Dame has brought in New England Patriots offensive guru (and Irish alum) Charlie Weis. Mr. Weis has his work cut out for him: Notre Dame has finished in the Top 15 just once since 1993.
• Other coaches start the season in the hot seat. Joe Paterno begins his 40th season at Penn State amid rampant speculation over whether the school will force him out if the Nittany Lions fail to reverse a slide of four losing seasons since 2000. And what of Nebraska, which endured a bruising fall in 2004 as NFL alum Bill Callahan junked a running tradition in favor of a passing-dominated, West Coast offense? Even Mack Brown, whose Texas Longhorns should be title contenders, is feeling pressure to break a five-year losing streak to archrivals Oklahoma.
Still, most eyes will be on Spurrier's Gamecocks. Twelve current or former players have been arrested since November for misdemeanors like drug possession and theft. Spurrier kicked four of them off the team. Nevertheless, expectations are at an all-time high. A spring scrimmage drew 38,000 fans, more than some schools attract for actual games.
That's because Spurrier, the self-proclaimed "Ol' Ball Coach," became a celebrity during a 12-year run leading Florida in the rugged Southeastern Conference. He won a national championship, seven conference titles, and 102 games during his first decade (a feat surpassed only by Alabama's Bear Bryant during the 1970s).
He won with bravado as well, establishing a trigger-happy offense dubbed the "Fun n' Gun" and tossing off quips like screen passes. Spurrier once taunted rival Florida State University during a scandal over players receiving free sneakers, saying the school's initials stood for Free Shoes University.
He's gone back to school following a disastrous two-year NFL coaching stint in Washington and a year away from the sidelines. Now all eyes are on Columbia.
"If Spurrier isn't at South Carolina, it's a blip on the radar," says Tim Brando, host of College Football Today on CBS. "Now they become the No. 1 story because Steve Spurrier is a rock star. He is college football's version of Mick Jagger. He revels in it."
1. USC - Pete Carroll
2. Texas - Mack Brown
3. Tennessee - Phillip Fulmer
4. Michigan - Lloyd Carr
5. Oklahoma - Bob Stoops
6. LSU - Les Miles
7. Virginia Tech - Frank Beamer
8. Miami - Larry Coker
9. Ohio State - Jim Tressel
10. Iowa - Kirk Ferentz
Source: USA Today