ELGIN -- Practice hasn't even begun, much less a game. If this year's South Carolina Gamecocks are doing anything right now, it's either conditioning, weightlifting or trying to stay out of trouble.
Yet coach Steve Spurrier says this could be the team for which long-suffering USC fans have been waiting.
"We feel like we got a pretty good team," Spurrier said at his annual media golf outing. "We don't know what we got yet.
"Our goals are much higher than they were the first couple of years, we're going to see if we can reach them."
Spurrier has made it known that he thinks this is the year USC can reasonably expect to contend for the SEC championship. Some media members heard and listened, giving the Gamecocks 11 votes on the preseason list for champion at last week's SEC Media Days.
But the majority of the media still voted USC in its usual perch -- fourth in the SEC East behind Georgia, Tennessee and defending national champ Florida. Spurrier has fielded teams that have consistently hung with the powers of the division, but they have yet to beat them consistently.
Spurrier could have erred on the side of caution and stated USC could be a bit better than the 7-5 or 8-5 seasons he's presided over thus far. But he went ahead and said USC can realistically challenge for the SEC title.
"We're excited about the new players," he said. "We were picked overall fourth, like we should be. Where we've always been until we can prove we can beat a team like Georgia or Florida."
The Gamecocks report Friday and have their first practice at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. That's the first of 30 sessions before the season-opener, Sept. 1 at home vs. Louisiana-Lafayette.
This week's about clearing up any loose ends and/or paperwork, seeing who will be on campus and who won't. Spurrier said the recruiting class that helped bolster his aspirations for the league championship is mostly intact, although four players didn't qualify and another (tight end Mat Williams) has decided football's not for him and went home.
Still, Spurrier was confident the Gamecocks' returning talent and the potential of the newcomers will be enough. USC has a standout middle linebacker; a two-headed running back Spurrier labeled one of the best platoons in the country; a tall defensive line stocked with depth; a superlative kicker and a starting quarterback who played the best stretch of his career during last season's three-game season-ending winning streak.
The only weakness is the offensive line, where the Gamecocks are replacing three interior linemen, but Spurrier hopes to make up for it with the addition of quick-draw offensive plays and a stable of wide receivers. The pass-catchers lost all-star Sidney Rice but return slot receiver Kenny McKinley, and Spurrier was excited about some of the newbies.
"I want to see Chris Culliver go deep," said Spurrier, mentioning the four-star freshman who was touted as one of the immediate-impact recruits. "He may be the fastest player on the team."
Culliver's position coach, Steve Spurrier Jr., agreed.
"You watch him on the kickoffs and you can see he's a big tall guy," Spurrier Jr. said. "You can tell he's really talented."
Spurrier cut his remarks short, saying he would answer most questions in a week at the team's annual Media Day. But he couldn't leave without once again mentioning his hopes for 2007.
"We haven't played anything yet," Spurrier said. " But we do feel like we got better talent than we did in the first couple of years."
n NOTES: Spurrier backed off his statements last week that all practices would be closed this year, saying some would be open for fans. He advised interested fans to check his personal Web site, spurrierhbc.com, for daily updates. ... Freshman offensive lineman Quintin Richardson remains suspended until his August court date. Spurrier joked he was going to institute a new rule, forbidding questions on players until they've actually played a game.