ATLANTA — There aren’t a lot of areas where South Carolina rates an edge over Auburn in today’s Southeastern Conference Championship game, but there’s at least one.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has a big edge over Auburn coach Gene Chizik in SEC Championship game experience.
While this is Spurrier’s first trip as coach at South Carolina, he’s been in the SEC title game seven times previously, winning five while coaching at Florida from 1990 to 2001.
Chizik was here as an assistant at Auburn in 2004, but this marks his first time as head coach.
Whether it all means anything is open to debate.
“I don’t think so,” Spurrier said Friday at the Georgia Dome in the final press conference before today’s game. “Auburn’s been here before. Coach Chizik was the defensive coordinator at Auburn when they were here about six years ago, I think. So they have some experience with the game.”
Chizik was asked about the challenge of matching wits with a coach of Spurrier’s reputation.
“It’s not a personal challenge,” Chizik said. “First of all, I have a great, great deal of respect for Coach Spurrier and everything he’s done in his career. It’s incredible that you can come and play in this game at two different schools.”
Spurrier, obviously, also has a huge edge in overall coaching experience.
He enters today’s game with an overall record of 187-71-2 in 21 seasons.
Chizik is 25-24 in his fourth season.
“His record speaks for itself,” Chizik said. “And again I’ve always admired what Steve’s done. It’s nothing ever personal with me. It’s about the team. It’s about the university. It’s about another challenge for us as a group.”
Spurrier says playing experience in today’s big game probably trumps coaching experience.
In that regard, the teams are on equal footing.
It’s the first title game appearance in school history for South Carolina (9-3). Auburn (12-0) hasn’t played in the game since 2004.
And while it may be a new experience for his players, Spurrier appreciates how his team has taken to “new experiences” over the course of the season.
“It’s new for our players, but it was new for our players to go to Florida (and win),” he said. “It was new for them to beat Alabama. It was new to beat Clemson again. So we’ve got some different things that hadn’t happened in a long time around there. So the big stage which we’re going to be on here (Saturday) is something I really believe our players look forward to.”
Auburn has had its own moments this season, not only in team firsts but simply surviving.
The Tigers have trailed in eight games this season and come back from double-digit deficits in four.
“In so many instances this year we’ve found different ways to win,” Chizik said. “We’ve been able to do it on the road. We’ve been able to do it at home. And I think there’s an advantage to that simply from the standpoint of the psyche of your team, knowing and believing and understanding that no matter what the situation is, we’ve got a chance to come back and win the game.”
Chizik, like Spurrier, believes it’s more about the players than the coaches.
“The dynamic is simple,” he said. “Auburn has a chance (Saturday) to win an SEC championship. And that’s really all we look at. But again very high level respect for Coach Spurrier and South Carolina and what they’ve done to get here.”
Charles Bennett covers Auburn University sports for The Star.