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Aug. 30, 2006

SETTING THE STAGE: The South Carolina Gamecocks open year two of the “Steve Spurrier Era” on Thursday, Aug. 31 when they travel to Starkville to face the Mississippi State Bulldogs in the season opener for both squads. The game is set for an 8:02 p.m. ET kick (7:02 p.m. CT) in Starkville’s Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field (55,082) on ESPN. Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit will call the action while Erin Andrews handles the sidelines. Todd Ellis and Tommy Suggs will once again be in the booth for the Carolina Gamecocks Sports Network, with Rob DeBoer prowling the sidelines. The game can also be heard on SIRIUS satellite radio channel 123.

A LITTLE HISTORY: This is the 113th season of college football at the University of South Carolina, dating back to 1892. The university did not field a team in either 1893 or 1906. This is the 100th consecutive year in which USC has competed on the gridiron. Carolina owns an all-time record of 507-512-44. The school’s only conference championship came in the 1969 season when it posted a perfect 6-0 record to win the Atlantic Coast Conference title in Paul Dietzel’s fourth year.

THURSDAY NIGHT SPECIAL: This is the 13th time in school history and the second time since 1948 that the Gamecocks have opened a season on a day other than Saturday. They also opened the 2005 season on a Thursday, defeating Central Florida by a 24-15 margin in the USC coaching debut of Steve Spurrier. The Gamecocks own a perfect 12-0 record when opening the season on a day other than Saturday, outscoring their opponents by a 270-27 margin in those contests.

FOR OPENERS: The Gamecocks are 72-36-4 in season openers, a .661 winning percentage, including wins in each of their last six and in nine of their last 10 season lidlifters. Their only loss in that stretch was a 10-0 setback at North Carolina State to open the 1999 season.

ROAD OPENERS: The 2006 season will mark the 25th time in 113 seasons that the Gamecocks have opened their slate on the road. They are just 6-18 in the previous 24 road openers, sporting a .250 winning percentage. That compares to a .773 winning percentage (66-18-4) when opening the season at home. They have opened the season on the road just once since 1999, winning at Vanderbilt by a 31-6 score to begin the 2004 season. They have never won two season openers on the road in the same decade, as their season-opening road wins came in 1941, 1954, 1965, 1981, 1993 and 2004.

THE HEAD BALL COACH IN OPENERS: South Carolina Head Coach Steve Spurrier is 15-1 in season-opening games in his 16 seasons as a collegiate head coach. The only loss in that stretch was ironically a 27-21 loss to the Carolina Gamecocks in Columbia on Sept. 2, 1989 when he was the head coach in his final season at Duke. That Blue Devil squad went on to win the ACC title that season. The USC victory was led by the great Todd Ellis, who is now the play-by-play voice of Gamecock Football. Since that time, Spurrier has won 13 straight season opening games with his squad scoring 40 or more points in 10 of those 13 contests.

SITTING THIS ONE OUT: The Gamecocks will be without the services of safety Brandon Isaac (declared ineligible by the NCAA) and wide receiver Noah Whiteside and safety Ty Erving (violation of university policy). All three will miss the first three games of the season.

ALSO SIDELINED: Tight end Andy Boyd, who learned earlier this month that he has been granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA, will miss the season opener due to a fractured right shoulder. Freshman defensive end Terrence Campbell is also out with a knee injury.

STREAKING GAMECOCKS: The Gamecocks ended the 2005 season with a school-record five-game SEC winning streak. After opening the season 0-3 in league play, the Gamecocks reeled off consecutive wins over Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Arkansas and Florida. EARLY AND OFTEN: Carolina is scheduled for three ESPN appearances, all coming in the first five weeks of the season. In addition to the opener at Mississippi State, the Gamecocks will be featured next Saturday night when they host Georgia in the home opener, then will get another Thursday night exposure when they host Auburn on Sept. 28 at Williams-Brice Stadium.

GAMECOCKS AND BULLDOGS: This is the 12th meeting on the gridiron between the Gamecocks and Mississippi State Bulldogs. South Carolina is looking to even up the all-time series, as Mississippi State holds a six games to five advantage. Carolina has won the last three meetings between the two league rivals, posting wins of 23-19 in Columbia in 2000, squeaking out a 16-14 win in Starkville in 2001, then running away with a 34-10 decision in their last meeting in 2002. MSU has won three of the previous five meetings in Starkville.

THE LAST TIME THEY MET: The Gamecocks put together their most impressive first half performance of the season en route to a 34-10 win over Mississippi State on Oct. 5, 2002. USC ran out to a 21-0 lead at the intermission, outgaining the Bulldogs 230-97 in the opening 30 minutes. Corey Jenkins carried 13 times for 52 yards and one touchdown and completed 5-of-10 passes for 103 yards and another score. A true freshman by the name of Kenny Irons capped the scoring on a 30-yard reception from Erik Kimrey.

SPURRIER AND THE BULLDOGS: South Carolina Head Coach Steve Spurrier owns a 4-2 record against Mississippi State, with all six encounters coming as the head coach at Florida. He is winless in two previous trips to Starkville. His 1992 squad that finished 8-4 suffered a 30-6 defeat, while the 2000 SEC Champions lone conference loss came by a 47-35 score in Starkville. He posted a 52-0 win in Gainesville in 2001, the last time his squad lined up against the Bulldogs.

LOOKING FOR 150: Steve Spurrier is looking for career victory number 150 as a collegiate head coach when he takes the field for the season-opener at Mississippi State. He owns a career mark of 149-45-2 in 16 seasons as a college head coach, a .765 winning percentage.

SECOND TO NONE: Gamecock fans are hoping that history will repeat itself. The second year of Steve Spurrier’s collegiate stops have been better than the first. After winning five games at Duke in 1987 he led the Blue Devils to a seven-win season in 1988. After winning nine games in 1990 at Florida, the Gators posted a 10-win campaign in 1991. Carolina posted seven victories in 2005. An eight-win season would be their best since the Gamecocks logged a 9-3 mark in 2001.

NEW FACES: Head coach Steve Spurrier made several changes on his coaching staff, both in personnel and in their duties heading into the 2006 campaign. Fred Chatham was hired to take over the tight ends and special teams. Chatham, who spent the past 17 years at Duke, was originally hired by Coach Spurrier for the Blue Devils in 1989. Brad Lawing is the Gamecocks’ new defensive line coach. Lawing is very familiar with USC, having coached in Columbia from 1989-98 under Sparky Woods and Brad Scott. Robert Gillespie begins his first season as the running backs coach after serving as a GA in 2005. Gillespie played for Coach Spurrier at Florida and with the Washington Redskins. Ron Cooper has been given the title of assistant head coach and works with the secondary. Tyrone Nix is the sole defensive coordinator after sharing that title last year, and works with the inside linebackers. Dave Wommack takes over the duties with the outside linebackers. David Reaves continues to assist the head coach with the quarterbacks and also assumes the recruiting coordinator position. John Hunt (offensive line) and Steve Spurrier, Jr. (wide receivers) retain their same positions from the 2005 staff.

BUILDING BLOCKS: The Gamecocks are coming off a 7-5 season in 2005, including a 5-3 mark in the Southeastern Conference that put them in second place in the SEC East Division. The Gamecocks won a school record five-straight SEC games to bounce back from an 0-3 start in league play. The winning streak including USC’s first win ever in Knoxville against Tennessee and its first win over Florida since 1939.

SECOND BEST: With a 5-3 conference record and a win over Florida, Carolina finished in second place in the SEC Eastern Division in 2005. It matched the Gamecocks’ highest league finish, as they also went 5-3 and tied for second in the 2000 season. That year there was a three-way tie for second (Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee) behind 7-1 Florida.

GOING BOWLING: The Gamecocks earned their way to the 2005 Independence Bowl where they suffered a 38-31 loss to the Missouri Tigers. It was USC’s first bowl appearance since the 2001 season, which ended in an Outback Bowl win over Ohio State. It was also just the 12th bowl game in 112 years of intercollegiate football for Carolina. Steve Spurrier joined Jim Carlen (1975) and Brad Scott (1994) as the only coaches who have led the Gamecocks to a bowl game in their first season as USC’s head coach. No head coach has led the Gamecocks to back-to-back bowl appearances in his first two seasons at Carolina.

CLOSE CALLS: Carolina was 5-3 in games decided by 10 points or less in 2005, with each of their last six games – four wins – decided by eight points or less. The Gamecocks were 4-2 when tied or trailing at the half and just 3-3 when leading heading into intermission.

BETTER OF LATE: After the 1998 and `99 seasons saw South Carolina win just once in 22 tries, the Gamecocks have begun to turn the corner since the turn of the century. Since the start of the 2000 season, USC has logged an overall record of 40-31. The 40 wins over the last six years is just one win shy of the best six-year stretch in school history. The Gamecocks won 41 times from 1979-1984.

NEW DECADE, DIFFERENT RESULTS: The Gamecocks have posted a 40-31 record since the calendar turned to 2000. The 40 wins from 2000-2005 is just one shy of their total of 41 victories posted in the entire decade of the `90s. Carolina’s most victories in any decade is 63, set from 1980-89.

KEEPING IT ALIVE: Head Coach Steve Spurrier has said countless times that the minimum goal this season is to win more games than they lose. If that would happen, it would be the Gamecocks their third straight winning campaign (6-5 in 2004 and 7-5 in 2005). The last time they turned in three consecutive winning seasons was 1988-90 when they went 8-4, 6-4-1 and 6-5 in consecutive years.

BACK-TO-BACK SEC GAMES: Following the contest at Mississippi State, the Gamecocks will return to Columbia where they will host the Georgia Bulldogs in another SEC contest. That tilt is set for Saturday, Sept. 9 with a 7:45 p.m. ET kick set for ESPN. Meanwhile Mississippi State continues its conference slate with a home date versus Auburn. USC and MSU are two of only three schools in the country that open the season with a pair of conference games. Houston, who plays in Conference USA, is the only other school with a similar slate.

IT’S NOT UNUSUAL: The Gamecocks opened the 2004 season with back-to-back SEC contests. They won at Vanderbilt, 31-6, before falling to third-ranked Georgia at home by a 20-16 count. In each of its first four years upon joining the SEC (1992-95), Carolina opened with a pair of league games, facing Georgia and Arkansas on the first two weekends of the season. They were never able to escape that stretch with a 2-0 record.

EARNING THEIR KEEP: Prior to the start of the season, Head Coach Steve Spurrier placed five former walk-ons on scholarship. They include quarterback Brett Nichols, snapper Scott Morgan, offensive guard Thomas Coleman, offensive guard Seth Edwards and linebacker Greg Wright. Over the past two seasons, Coach Spurrier has rewarded nine walk-on players with scholarships.

NO AARP CARDS NEEDED HERE: The Gamecocks have just six seniors on the squad that came into the program as scholarship players. Only two – center Chris White and tight end Andy Boyd – are in their fifth-year in the program. The four-year players are wide receivers Syvelle Newton and Noah Whiteside and cornerback Fred Bennett, while safety Brandon Isaac came to USC via the junior college route. Only White, Newton and Bennett are expected to see action in the season opener.

PRE-SEASON ACCOLADES: Sophomore wide receiver Sidney Rice and senior cornerback Fred Bennett have received some high pre-season praise. Both were named to the pre-season All-SEC first team and both were named to The Sporting News’ pre-season second team All-America squad. Bennett is regarded by the magazine as the nation’s third-best cornerback, while Rice is pegged as the country’s fourth-best wide receiver. Senior center Chris White was on the spring list for the Rimington Award, which recognizes the nation’s top center.

RICE RETURNS: Wide receiver Sidney Rice made a name for himself as a redshirt freshman in 2005, breaking nearly every school receiving record, culminating with a record-setting 12-catch, 191-yard receiving performance in the 2005 Independence Bowl. Rice, who was on everyone’s Freshman All-America list, is the lone all-conference performer returning to the Gamecocks’ lineup, although cornerback Fred Bennett did earn SEC honorable mention honors by the Associated Press and defensive end Dakota Walker was selected to the SEC All-Freshman squad.

MORE RICE PLEASE: Sidney Rice set the school’s single-season record for receiving yards (1,143) and touchdown catches (13) in 2005. He logged six 100-yard receiving games and has caught a touchdown pass in nine of his 11 career games. After one season, he is 24 catches and 331 yards shy of moving into Carolina’s top 10 career list for receptions and receiving yards. With 13 receiving touchdowns last season, he is just six away from Robert Brooks and Jermale Kelly, who share the school record with 19 career receiving touchdowns.

BLAKE’S BACK: Junior signal-caller Blake Mitchell returns for his second season guiding the USC offense. As a sophomore, Mitchell won seven of 11 starts. He completed 59 percent of his passes a year ago while throwing for 2,370 yards (seventh in school history) and 17 touchdowns (fifth in school history). He enters the 2006 season ranked 14th in career passing yards on the USC charts with 2,456 and could pass Mike Fair (2,486) and Dan Reeves (2,561) in the season opener.

MORE MITCHELL: Junior quarterback Blake Mitchell could move up quickly on the Gamecocks’ career passing leaders list. Mitchell threw for 2,370 yards last season and has thrown for 2,456 in his career. There have been only four players in school history who have thrown for more than 5,000 yards in their Carolina career – Todd Ellis, Steve Taneyhill, Anthony Wright and Phil Petty. With 18 career touchdown passes, Mitchell needs just 11 TD strikes this season to move into Carolina’s top five list in that category as well.

NEWTON’S LAWS: One of the biggest off-season questions for the Gamecocks would be whether 2006 would see the return of Syvelle Newton. The senior from Wallace, S.C. suffered a torn Achilles’ tendon while earning SEC Offensive Player of the Week honors for his efforts in leading the Gamecocks to a win over Vanderbilt. A rare combination of runner, passer and receiver, Newton is just 44 yards shy of rushing for 500 yards in his career. He has already thrown for over 1,000 yards and has over 500 receiving yards to his credit.

DAVIS DELIVERS: Tailback Mike Davis gave the USC running game a boost late in the 2005 season. He rolled up his first collegiate 100-yard rushing game in the regular season finale against Clemson, going for 111 yards on 21 carries. It was the first 100-yard rushing game by a Gamecock since Daccus Turman ran for 122 against Florida on November 15, 2003. He followed that up with a season-best 125-yard performance on 18 carries against Missouri in the Independence Bowl.

SHARING THE LOAD: Mike Davis is expected to split the rushing duties with junior tailback Cory Boyd. Boyd sat out the 2005 campaing while serving a disciplinary suspension. He was the team’s Freshman of the Year in 2003 and was the squad’s second-leading rusher in 2004, averaging 5.0 yards per carry. Between Davis and Boyd, the Gamecocks expect to be much improved over a rushing offense that ranked 108th in the country in 2005, averaging just 95.2 yards per game.

WHERE HAVE ALL THE DEFENDERS GONE?: The Gamecocks lost seven defensive starters off last year’s squad either to graduation or to the NFL (safety Ko Simpson and cornerback Johnathan Joseph). Of the four returning starters, only cornerback Fred Bennett figures to take the first snap this season. Mike West has moved to the offensive side of the ball, while Jordin Lindsey and Stanley Doughty are slated for backup roles. BREAKING DOWN BENNETT: All-America cornerback candidate Fred Bennett will have to serve as the leader on the defense. With 21 starts under his belt, Bennett has made more starts than the next two defensive players (Stanley Doughty and Jordin Lindsey with 9 each) have combined. In fact, the other 10 projected starters on defense have combined for just 13 starts on that side of the ball (Hampton-5; Hall-4; Wells-2; Brown-1; Sapp-1). Bennett, who picked off three passes a year ago and has seven career interceptions, is looking to follow in the footsteps of other recent standout USC defensive backs, including Sheldon Brown, Ko Simpson and Johnathan Joseph.

YOUTH WILL BE SERVED: The Gamecocks list eight true freshman on their two-deep entering the season. On offense, quarterback Chris Smelley, left tackle Hutch Eckerson and right guard Garrett Anderson are all listed as second team players. The defense lists five true freshmen on the two-deep, including defensive end Eric Norwood, linebacker Rodney Paulk, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and safeties Emanuel Cook and Darian Stewart.

NO DEPOSIT, NO RETURN: Ryan Succop handles all the kicking duties for the Gamecocks. Last season, 49.2 percent (29-of-59) of his kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. Comparatively, only 15 of 52 USC kickoffs in 2004 (29 percent) were touchbacks. He also taked over the punting and placekicking chores this season from the graduated Josh Brown. Succop has never punted in a collegiate game and is 0-for-2 in field goal attempts, but the misses came from 50 and 46 yards out.

THE PIPELINE: The Gamecocks roster features four players who competed at Georgia Military College prior to the their arrival in Columbia. Both Jasper and Casper Brinkley, Joel Reaves and Brandon Isaac played for the Bulldogs, located in Milledgeville, Ga.

BLACK IS BACK: The Gamecocks are expected to come out wearing black shirts in Starkville. It will mark the first time USC has worn that color in the Steve Spurrier era. The last time they wore black jerseys was on Nov. 6, 2004, when USC beat Arkansas, 35-32, at Williams-Brice Stadium. The Gamecocks wore black shirts and black helmets during the 2004 campaign.

WHAT CAN BROWN DO FOR YOU?: They may wear black, but the Gamecocks are well-stocked with Brown.The 2006 roster features six players – none of whom are related – with the last name of Brown. The Browns include Freddie, Marquise, Moe, Ryan, Seaver and William. The Gamecocks also have a Green (James), a White (Chris) and a Whiteside (Noah) on the roster.

PUTTING POINTS ON THE BOARD: The last time a Steve Spurrier coached offense was shutout came on October 3, 1987 against Rutgers in Piscataway, New Jersey. The Scarlet Knights blanked the Blue Devils, 7-0. Coach Spurrier has coached 189 straight games without being whitewashed since that day in Jersey.

DON’T BLANK ME: South Carolina has played 37 games since it was last shutout, that coming on November 9, 2002 in a 23-0 loss to Arkansas.

SHUTTING THEM OUT: The last time the Gamecocks pitched a shutout was on September 2, 2000 when they opened the season with a 31-0 rout of New Mexico State. They have gone 70 games since that last whitewash.

PLAYING OT: The Gamecocks have played just one overtime game in its history, falling to Tennessee by a 23-20 margin in Knoxville on Sept. 27, 2003. Every other SEC team has played at least three overtime games since the rule was established in 1996.

BOWL TIE-INS: The SEC has arrangements to send eight teams to post-season bowls. They include: BCS, Capital One, AT&T, Cotton, Chick-fil-A, Outback, Autozone Liberty, Gaylord Hotels Music City and PetroSun Independence.

UP NEXT: The Gamecocks have another nationally-televised game next week when they host the Georgia Bulldogs in a 7:45 p.m. contest at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia. The Bulldogs won last year’s meeting in Athens by a 17-15 score. UGA leads the all-time series 43-13-2.