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What's the biggest reason for Steve Spurrier's decline at South Carolina?

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He is one of the great coaches in college football history, but he is not headed for a storybook ending.

Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

"I've snapped and plotted all my life." - Henry II, The Lion In Winter.

In 1995, Steve Spurrier was in the midst of a record-tying stretch in which his Florida teams would win four straight SEC titles. That season, Florida played Georgia in the Peach State for the first time since 1932. Spurrier celebrated the opportunity by hanging "half a hundred" on the Dawgs. The Gators scored 52 points, to be precise.

Twenty years later, Spurrier was back in Athens. Same guy, same white visor, white golf shirt and khakis, different team, different result. This time, it was his South Carolina team allowing 52 points.

Spurrier's career has often been defined by his games against Georgia. He won the Heisman for Florida in 1966, but his Gators' unbeaten season was ruined by a loss to the Dawgs. Georgia then overlooked him when it made the decision to replace Vince Dooley with Ray Goff, despite the fact that Spurrier was winning at Duke. Spurrier punished the Dawgs for their decision, beating Georgia 11 out of 12 times, with nine of the wins by double digits.

While Spurrier has not had the same success since moving to South Carolina, he also moved to a school without Florida's assets. His 5-5 record against Georgia since moving to Columbia is quite an achievement, especially when one considers Georgia was 42-13-2 against the Gamecocks before Spurrier arrived.

The apex for Spurrier at South Carolina was the 2012 game against Georgia. South Carolina entered at No. 6, Georgia entered at No. 5, and the Gamecocks put together an impeccable performance to thrash Georgia, 35-7. That was the Bulldogs' only loss of the regular season.

So what has changed in three short years that South Carolina would go from crushing an excellent team by 28 to losing by 32? How does a team fall so far so fast? And what is the implication for the future of a 70-year-old coach?

1. Is it recruiting?

Fixing a program that lacks talent is a long-term undertaking. However, if we compare the recruiting profiles of the 2012 team that thrashed Georgia and the 2015 team that got clobbered on Saturday night, the number of blue chip players on the two-deeps is a wash.

Unit Five-stars Four-stars Three-stars Two-stars Unrated
2015 offense 0 6 9 1 4
2012 offense 0 7 12 2 1
2015 defense 0 10 14 0 0
2012 defense 1 6 12 2 1

Unless one attributes magical effect to Jadaveon Clowney, the 2015 defense ought to be at least equivalent. And while the 2012 offense had a better recruiting profile, the gap is not so significant that South Carolina should not break 100 yards passing despite trailing all game long, even with an injured quarterback.

It's possible South Carolina was just lucky that three-star players like Shaq Wilson, Devin Taylor and D.J. Swearinger turned out to be above-average SEC players. It's also possible that Spurrier and his staff scouted better when they signed older classes. It's possible recruiting did play a role, but there's got to be more to it.

2. Is it quarterback play?

South Carolina's quarterback in 2012 was Connor Shaw, a three-star recruit whose teams produced a record of 33-6 in his three seasons as a starter. The Gamecocks' starter this season was supposed to be Connor Mitch, a four-star recruit. Mitch is now hurt and his replacement, Perry Orth, is one of four unrated players on South Carolina's depth chart. Orth was plainly overmatched against Georgia and yielded to true freshman Lorenzo Nunez, another four-star recruit.

Spurrier's team is experiencing a post-Shaw dip reminiscent of his struggles to replace Danny Wuerffel at Florida. Wuerffel was a lightly recruited prospect, but by the time he left, he had a Heisman Trophy and a national title. Florida's offense regressed, as Doug Johnson and Jesse Palmer failed to play up to the same level. It was only when Rex Grossman took the job in 2000 that Florida's offense returned to the stratosphere.

So despite Spurrier's reputation, there is a precedent for droughts at quarterback.

3. Is it defensive coaching?

At Florida, Spurrier could cushion the fall after replacing Wuerffel with a talented defense coordinated by Bob Stoops. He's failing to do something similar at South Carolina. A defense full of four-star recruits allowed Greyson Lambert (who transferred to Georgia after losing the starting job at Virginia) to set an NCAA record for completion percentage one week after Lambert was briefly benched and went an entire half against Vandy without completing a pass.

Whether South Carolina's defensive woes are the result of scheme, player development or both, Spurrier has to diagnose the problem and find a solution.

The good news for South Carolina is there is a viable path forward. If Nunez can be the modern-day Grossman and Spurrier can find the right coaches on the defensive side of the ball (maybe not Stoops, but something in that direction), then there's no reason why this dip needs to be permanent. Some assume Spurrier cannot save himself because he's 70, but there is at least one recent example of a coach in his 70s engineering a major turnaround.

The danger for South Carolina is that Spurrier's age and possible retirement have become toxic in recruiting, which motivated Spurrier to a bizarre press conference performance this summer. Even if Spurrier can solve the problems at quarterback and on defense, he is digging a hole that will affect depth in the next couple years and the starting lineup a year or two after that. In other words, he doesn't have the margin for error that he did at Florida.