COLUMBIA, S.C. — Steve Spurrier has always liked the attention South Carolina gets by starting its season on a Thursday night.
Having All-America Jadeveon Clowney on the sideline, though, guarantees the Gamecocks will get plenty of attention whenever they play this season.
“I told my wife this morning, I was looking at the paper, all the NFL guys are playing this Thursday night,” Spurrier said. “Those dadgum guys are crowding in on our Thursday night TV games.”
Don’t worry, coach, your ratings will likely be high among NFL scouts, who’ll tune to watch Clowney.
The 6-foot-6, 274-pound junior — and possible No. 1 pick in the next draft — steps on the field for the first time since the Outback Bowl when he sent the helmet of Michigan runner Vincent Smith flying and turned momentum to the Gamecocks in a 33-28 victory.
The hype hasn’t slowed down since. Clowney’s hit won an ESPY for “Best Play.” He’s met LeBron James, been linked to rap mogul Jay-Z and is considered a legit candidate to become the first defense-only player to walk away with the Heisman Trophy.
First, the Tar Heels.
Clowney, Spurrier said, is eager to show his skills on the field again instead of hearing about what might happen. “Jadeveon, obviously, he and Johnny Football are the two guys the whole country’s been talking about. And I think Jadeveon’s handled it very well,” Spurrier said.
The Gamecocks are 13-1 at home since Clowney arrived in 2011. North Carolina left tackle James Hurst, an all-Atlantic Coast Conference player with NFL aspirations of his own, is the first who’ll try to slow down the Gamecocks defensive end.
Hurst has watched Clowney on film since January and patiently fielded question after question about what’s in front of him.
“I don’t really know if it matters if I’m tired of talking about him because I know it’s going to be a big deal,” Hurst said. “It just keeps reminding me of how big of a deal it is, so it’s probably a good thing.”
5 THINGS TO WATCH
1. WELL, THERE’S CLOWNEY: Clowney kept astounding teammates throughout the offseason. He ran a 4.46-second time in the 40-yard dash. He toppled a two-man tackling sled with linemate Gerald Dixon. And here’s a scary proposition — Clowney said he’s in the best shape of his life. “I used to get tired last year during games a lot. Now, I just got myself really in shape. That’s all it was. I am not worried about my game, because my game was all right last year. I was just out of shape last year.” Out-of-shape Clowney had 13 sacks and was the SEC’s defensive player of the year.
2. NORTH CAROLINA’S RENNER: Tar Heels quarterback Bryn Renner could be the best offensive player on the field. He’s thrown 52 touchdown passes the past two years and said he’s more adept at running coach Larry Fedora’s high-speed offense. Renner hasn’t thrown an interception in his last 91 attempts and said he has to get rid of the ball so quickly, he has no time to worry about Clowney.
3. ACC MEETS SEC: South Carolina has had its way with ACC opponents since Steve Spurrier arrived after the 2004 season. The Gamecocks have won four straight in the Palmetto State rivalry series. The Gamecocks have gone 8-4 against ACC teams in Spurrier’s eight previous seasons, including a 21-15 win at Chapel Hill the last time they played North Carolina.
4. NEW FACES IN THE BACKFIELD: Both teams have to break in new tailbacks. South Carolina sophomore Mike Davis, the brother of former Clemson 1,000-yard rusher James Davis, will get first crack at taking over for Marcus Lattimore. Sophomore Romar Morris is atop the depth chart for the Tar Heels after two-time 1,000-yard rusher Giovani Bernard left for the NFL.
5. SPURRIER DOESN’T LOSE OPENERS: South Carolina’s coach has won his past 20 college openers dating to his debut season at Florida in 1990. Throw in a pair of NFL opening victories in 2002 and 2003 with the Washington Redskins and that streak grows. Spurrier’s lone college opening loss? To South Carolina while he was in his last season as Duke’s coach in 1989. Spurrier’s Blue Devils bounced back to win their third straight over North Carolina and take the ACC title.
AP sportswriter Aaron Beard in Chapel Hill, N.C., contributed to this report.
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