ATLANTA (AP) - Steve Spurrier was disappointed to report that his pitch to South Carolina recruits will not change this year.
"We can still tell recruits you can be on that first Southeastern Conference championship team," Spurrier said after Auburn's lopsided 56-17 win over his Gamecocks on Saturday. "I can still say that. Going into my seventh year, I can still say that. We'll make it happen one day."
Saturday surely wasn't the day.
Spurrier led South Carolina to its first SEC championship game appearance, but acknowledged this will only be remembered as a good season and not the "super year we had all hoped for."
Spurrier had said he was happy the NCAA had cleared Auburn's Cam Newton to play in the game, saying he felt the quarterback deserved to play.
Well, Newton played _ and with a little help from his teammates _ frustrated Spurrier all game.
No matter how deep he reached into his bag of tricks, the coach couldn't will South Carolina past the Heisman favorite and his Tigers.
It wasn't for a lack of intensity. The 65-year-old Spurrier _ returning to his first SEC championship game in 10 years _ was animated as ever on the sideline.
His visor felt the brunt of his anguish. He tugged on it throughout the game, pulling it down over his face in disgust after one of three Auburn first-quarter touchdowns. He threw the visor to the ground after Newton's crushing Hail Mary touchdown pass at the end of the first half.
"He was fired up just like we were fired up," said South Carolina linebacker Antonio Allen. "We thought we were going to win."
Spurrier said his excitement only grew before the game as the Georgia Dome was packed long before kickoff.
"I apologize to Carolina fans that came," he said. "That was the loudest pregame I've ever been to in my life. And I thank the Gamecock fans. I wish we could have given you something to cheer about during the game, but we couldn't do it. Auburn was too good for us."
Spurrier knows what it's like to be on the other side.
He won six SEC championships at Florida, where the Gators were often the favorite in the title game. Spurrier's 18th-ranked Gamecocks couldn't overcome their underdog role against No. 2 Auburn.
He kept South Carolina close, and the Gamecocks looked to be in good shape after pulling to within 21-14 with just 16 seconds left in the half _ and set to the ball to start the third quarter.
Then came the back-breaker.
Newton heaved that 51-yard Hail Mary pass to the end zone, which South Carolina's 6-foot-2 DeVonte Holloman tipped. But the deflected ball fell into the hands of Auburn's Darvin Adams, knocking the wind out of the Gamecocks.
"We looked pretty stupid on that last play," Spurrier said as he walked off the field, "but sometimes that happens."
Spurrier deployed defensive end Cliff Matthews as a spy to follow Newton, but that strategy only left a shortage of pass rushers as Newton ran and threw for a combined six touchdowns.
Spurrier paused when asked if Newton is the best college quarterback he has seen.
"That's a good question," he said. "I don't like to put anybody at the top. He's certainly one of the best quarterback runners probably to ever come through college ball. It will be interesting to watch him in pro ball because he dodges people.
"He doesn't take hard hits with a helmet. They can't do it. He dodges and jumps and he knows how to get down or get out of bounds after he gets about 25 or 30 yards. He's just a very good player."
Spurrier kept a headset over his visor as the Tigers turned the close game into a rout in the second half.
With his team trailing 42-14, Spurrier called his players around him for a big huddle before the final quarter. He clapped his hands as he tried to encourage his team, but for the second time this season he had no answer for Newton.
The Heisman favorite also accounted for five touchdowns in Auburn's 35-27 win over South Carolina on Sept. 25.
After a big Auburn gain late in the game by backup quarterback Barrett Trotter, a deflated Spurrier handed his list of plays to an assistant and leaned forward, looking down with his hands on his knees.
Still, it was a return to prominence for Spurrier, whose six SEC championships at Florida included five after the conference added a championship game in 1992. He also won an Atlantic Coast Conference championship at Duke in 1989.
Spurrier's thoughts returned to South Carolina fans at the end of his postgame news conference.
"They were here," he said. "They were looking for something. It just never happened. It didn't happen."