COLUMBIA -- Offseason football workouts are unsupervised, but don't think South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier isn't getting reports on what's going on with his players.
"We've heard they're going a lot better than in the previous two years," Spurrier said Monday during his midsummer press conference. "It's not 100 percent, but it's the best it's been in three years.
"Hopefully, it will provide dividends in those close ballgames."
The Gamecocks are going through non-mandatory summer workouts, running, conditioning and lifting weights. Spurrier is able to keep tabs on participation when players come to pick up their meal money, asking who's showing up and who's not.
Without naming names, Spurrier said it's been a pleasing report thus far.
With most of his highly regarded recruiting class beginning summer school today, the coach was hopeful the good participation would continue.
Only then can USC truly embark on what Spurrier said is a feasible goal -- challenging for the SEC championship.
"We've not escaped the middle of the Eastern Division yet," Spurrier said, pointing out while his two-year record at USC is 15-10, his SEC record during that time is 8-8. "We're still kind of stuck in that mediocrity."
The recruiting class, a big part of Spurrier's claim the Gamecocks can contend this year, is mostly intact. Receiver Michael Bowman is a definite casualty while defensive back Antonio Allen, defensive back Akeem Auguste, running back Eric Baker, receiver Joseph Hills, linebacker Melvin Ingram and defensive back Arkee Smith are still hoping to clear the admissions process.
But the biggest pieces of the class -- receivers Mark Barnes, Jason Barnes, Chris Culliver and Dion LeCorn; offensive lineman Quintin Richardson (recovered from a stabbing two weeks ago); defensive ends Travian Robertson and Cliff Matthews; and troubled quarterback Stephen Garcia -- are in Columbia and ready to go.
Garcia, who was suspended for spring practice after two arrests earlier this year, has been battling knee tendinitis, but Spurrier said he should be ready for the first day of practice on Aug. 4. He was listed behind starter Blake Mitchell and subs Chris Smelley and Tommy Beecher on the depth chart.
The only definite injuries are to linebackers Dustin Lindsey and Marvin Sapp, who were each hurt during USC's spring game. Lindsey blew out his knee and Sapp broke a bone in his ankle, but Sapp is cleared and Lindsey, Spurrier said, is progressing faster than normal.
"He may be back in the middle of the season," Spurrier said.
Spurrier also showed he hasn't lost his touch for one-liners, telling the audience that offensive lineman Justin Sorensen had lost weight and improved his speed. Sorensen, who missed a few days of spring practice after having a beer bottle broken over his head in the Five Points area, has apparently cut down on his nightlife.
"He tells me he's staying out of the bars every night," Spurrier cracked. "Only on weekends now."
n NOTES: Spurrier also congratulated USC student Crystal Garrett, who was named Miss South Carolina recently. ... Players report Aug. 3 with the first practice the next day. ... Linebacker Jasper Brinkley and tailback Cory Boyd will accompany Spurrier to SEC Media Days as the Gamecocks' two team representatives. ... Kickoff for USC's Sept. 1 season-opener against Louisiana-Lafayette is at 7 p.m.