Even from afar, national college football analyst Gary Danielson is impressed by the progress shown by the South Carolina program under Steve Spurrier.
USC won nine games for just the third time in school history in 2010 and appear ready to equal or surpass that win total this season in the wake of last week's wild 45-42 win over Georgia. Moreover, USC won a school record 29 games over a four-year period (2007-10).
How did Spurrier do it?
"I don't think there is any doubt that what Steve has done there at South Carolina is pretty amazing," Danielson said earlier this week during a teleconference with reporters. "He has now made that a destination place for, most importantly, the high level athletes in his state. They are now looking at South Carolina as an equal or maybe even a preferred landing spot for those top athletes. That's been done through hard work, a little bit of Steve's reputation and winning football games. He is still an excellent game coach too."
When quarterback Stephen Garcia (7,005 career passing yards) is playing well, Danielson contended he is hard-pressed to come up with a better 'Big Three' in the country than running back Marcus Lattimore, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and Garcia.
"We saw Garcia and his performance against Alabama last season," Danielson said. "That combination, that trifecta is little bit like the Cowboys when they had Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin. When you have Lattimore, Jeffery and Garcia at the top of the games, there is nobody tougher for college defenses to stop. Now you've added talent on the defensive side of the ball. I saw a list of the Top 25 players in the SEC and six were from South Carolina. That's an upgrade in talent and that's why they can go on any field and compete with people."
Spencer Tillman of CBS was an outspoken Lattimore fan when the sophomore (1,485 yards) was still attending Byrnes High School in Greer, SC. In fact, he believes the success of USC depends to a large extent on Lattimore succeeding as well.
"The fact Georgia, Florida and Tennessee are redefining who they are has certainly helped clear that path for South Carolina to emerge," Spencer Tillman said. "Again, that doesn't put an asterisk besides anything they've accomplished. I was on the Marcus Lattimore bandwagon when he was in high school. I told folks he was going to be a special player. He is certainly a man and he hasn't disappointed. The degree of his success will equal the relative success of that whole organization there. Steve has done a tremendous job."
SPEEDY QUARTERBACK: The success of Navy's triple option depends on a fast quarterback who can turn the corner and get upfield in a hurry. So far, Kriss Proctor of Big Bear, Calif. and the offensive scheme have proven to be a perfect match. Proctor leads Navy in rushing after two games with 199 yards and is credited with 11 so-called 'big plays' (10 or more yards) this season, five rushing and six passing. He had 201 yards rushing against Central Michigan in 2010, the 10th time in school history a quarterback has rushed for 200+ yards in a single game.
How fast is Proctor? He ran the pro agility drill in 4.1 seconds, the fourth fastest mark on the team. He opened the 2011 season by rushing for 176 yards against Delaware. Proctor finally secured the starting QB job after playing behind Ricky Dobbs for two seasons.
"Obviously, Ricky was a great quarterback for us, but Kriss is a great quarterback too," Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo told 107.5 FM earlier this week. "He has allowed us to become faster. He is probably the fastest quarterback that we've had during the triple option era, which includes when Coach Johnson was here until now. It has allowed us to stretch the field a little bit more and allowed us to attack in a lot of different ways. There are times when people (opposing defenses) say just let the quarterback carry the football and take away the dive. We don't really care what people take away. If you allow the quarterback to carry the football, we're fine with that. He has done a great job and hopefully he can finish up strong."
PASS PROTECTION: By now, the troubles of the USC passing attack have been well documented. In the two wins over East Carolina and Georgia, Gamecock quarterbacks completed 41.2 percent (21-51) of their passes for 273 yards. The offensive line has yielded two sacks and four quarterback pressures in the first two games. Offensive line coach Shawn Elliott says that is too many.
"I understand the protection plays a key role in the passing game and if we can't protect them, we're giving it up", Elliott said. "We have to do a better job at protection. We've played two football games and given up two sacks and five of six pressures. That throws a quarterback off. You can't have a guy who 6-5, 290 pound game rushing down your neck and expect to throw a perfect spiral and get the timing and things of that nature. We have to be better up front. It starts with those front five whether we're running or passing the football. If those guys aren't playing well, the entire offense isn't playing well."
GAME PREDICTIONS: Here are the predictions and comments for the USC-Navy game by some nationally prominent writers and/or websites covering SEC football.
Chris Low, ESPN Blogger - South Carolina 41, Navy 21. "For a guy whose team has already won at Georgia and is ranked No. 10 nationally, the Head Ball Coach doesn't sound real happy. Maybe that's because he knows his team is living dangerously. The Gamecocks better not go through the motions against the Midshipmen."
Edward Aschoff, ESPN Blogger - South Carolina 38, Navy 17. "South Carolina's defense has struggled through the first two games and will have its hands full with Navy's triple option. Steve Spurrier made his displeasure with his team known this week, so the Gamecocks won't be feeling tremendously good about themselves. Expect a more complete performance this weekend."
CollegeFootballNews.com - South Carolina 41, Navy 27. "In 1920, South Carolina made the trip to Navy and came away with a 63-0 beatdown. It's payback time, after a slow start. It's also braincramp time for the Gamecocks, who'll wear down the mediocre Navy defense and will come up with a few big home runs to put the game away, but it'll take way too much effort. Navy will hold on to the ball for over 35 minutes and will run for over 200 yards, but it won't be enough to overcome Alshon Jeffery, who'll have a breakout game with at least seven catches for over 150 yards."
Bruce Feldman, CBSSports.com - South Carolina 42, Navy 21: "Marcus Lattimore had a huge game last week against Georgia and should again this week against a Navy team that hasn't seen anything close to an elite program yet. The Gamecocks do have some issues in their secondary, but Navy doesn't throw it well enough to exploit them. Adding big strong safety DeVonte Holloman back into the starting lineup should also help deal with Navy's potent ground attack."
Phil Steele - South Carolina 45, Navy 21 (Computer).
WEATHER FORECAST: The forecast for the 6 p.m. kickoff is good football weather. Temperatures are expected to be in the upper 60's with cloudy skies and a 20 percent chance of precipitation. Temperatures will fall into the mid-60's by the end of the game around 9 p.m.
SEC SCORES/SCHEDULE (Sat. 9/17): LSU 19, Mississippi State 6 (Thur. 9/15) Auburn at Clemson, noon (ABC) Ole Miss at Vanderbilt, 12:20 p.m. (SEC Network) Coastal Carolina at Georgia, 1 p.m. (PPV) Tennessee at Florida, 3:30 (CBS) Navy at South Carolina, 6 p.m. (ESPN2) Louisville at Kentucky, 7 p.m. (ESPNU) North Texas at Alabama, 7:30 p.m. (Fox Sports South) Troy at Arkansas, 7:30 p.m. (CSS)
-- Assistant baseball coach Chad Holbrook spoke with 107.5 FM The Game this week on Shon Carson's serious knee injury that has sidelined him for the season. Carson had been expected to compete for an outfield spot on the baseball team in January. "I've spoken with him a couple of times and it's tough on him," Holbrook said. "I told him that when you get a lemon, you have to make lemonade. From a football standpoint, he will still have four years to play. With Marcus being here, he doesn't have to use two years of eligibility being a backup to Marcus necessarily. It could only be one year depending on what happens. We're deep in the outfield this year and as much as we would like to have him, he may be better suited to come in for the 2013 season as a freshman ready to go. He would have a year under his belt as far as getting some work in and it won't be as crowded in the outfield as well."
-- USC defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach Lorenzo Ward coached alongside Navy defensive coordinator Buddy Greene at Tennessee-Chattanooga in the late 1990's.
-- USC has won four consecutive home openers over Louisiana-Lafayette, NC State, Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss. Overall, USC is 14-2 in their last 16 home games dating back to the 2008 season. They were 6-1 at home in each of the past two seasons.
-- What has been the best quarter for USC so far in the early going? The third quarter when USC has outscored the opponents, 42-14. Their 101 total points computes to 50.5 points per game average, second in the SEC and fourth highest in the nation. The last time USC opened a season with 100 or more points in the first two games was 1980 when they blanked Pacific, 37-0, and Wichita State, 73-0, to open the season.