COLUMBIA -- South Carolina took the first step Saturday toward contending for the SEC East.
But a day after the Gamecocks' rousing 16-12 victory at Georgia, USC coach Steve Spurrier cautioned that the road to Atlanta, site of the SEC championship game, is a long one that will be considerably bumpy if his team does not continue to improve.
USC's first win against Georgia in six years vaulted the Gamecocks into The Associated Press Top 25 poll at No. 17, their highest ranking since finishing the 2001 season ranked No. 13.
"One of our goals was to end the season as a ranked team. So we're there now and hopefully we can stay there," Spurrier said.
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"We really need to play a lot better than we did last night if we're going to have a chance for a big year. We can't rely on a lot of good luck, a lot of good fortune that happened for us."
USC's defense lived up to its preseason billing as a tough, veteran unit. The Gamecocks became the first team to hold Georgia without a touchdown since USC's 14-9 victory in Athens in 2001.
But Spurrier noted several areas where the Gamecocks need work, beginning with special teams. Spurrier promised to make changes to the coverage teams after the Bulldogs broke three long returns.
USC also continues to search for a pass-catching threat besides Kenny McKinley, who leads the team in receptions.
Spurrier pointed out the Gamecocks were lucky that Georgia receivers dropped a few passes, including one at the goal line in the second half that would have tied the game.
All that said, USC players woke up this morning in first place in the SEC East and in better position than the past two years when they dropped their conference opener to Georgia. Because of tiebreaker procedures, the Gamecocks essentially have a two-game edge over the Bulldogs.