Every year when the schedule is released, fans spend countless hours analyzing it in the offseason as they prepare for the upcoming season. They look to see how their slate of conference games pan out, which road games will offer the best trips, and just where exactly the bye week fits in. However, when it comes to Clemson and South Carolina fans, no matter howthe first eleven weeks of the season pan out there is the security of always knowing exactly when the biggest game of the season will always be. Whatever happens over the course of the season, no matter the circumstances, it just doesn’t get any bigger than rivalry week between the Tigers and the Gamecocks.
Saturday night will mark the 110th meeting on the gridiron between these two schools with Clemson holding a 65-40 advantage in all-time wins with four ties. The two teams current streak of 104 games played in consecutive years make it the second longest on-going rivalry in all of college football. Though it’s the Tigers who have dominated this series historically, South Carolina has taken the last three meetings against the Tigers by an average of over 20 points. A win on Saturday against Clemson will be South Carolina’s first four game win streak over Clemson since the 1951-1954.
The rivalry first kicked off in 1896 and for a state that has no top tier professional athletic franchises, the Clemson and South Carolina rivalry is the competitive heartbeat in the state of South Carolina. If born in the palmetto state, it’s a decision at birth as to whether you prefer orange for the upstate school of the Tigers, or garnet and black for the Gamecocks out of Columbia. There’s no sitting on the fence, in between, or compromising. It’s said that everyone in the state has two favorite teams. If you’re a Clemson fan, you support the Tigers and whoever’s playing South Carolina. If you’re a Gamecock it’s the opposite. It’s a rivalry that affects friendships at times, divides families, and provides plenty of banter between fan bases regardless of the location. Now, the rivalry looks to establish itself at the forefront of the college football scene and captivate not just those domestically but nationally as well.
While this rivalry is among the most heated in all of college football, it hasn’t been one of the most compelling simply due to the fact that both programs have muddled around in mediocrity for far too long. Clemson’s ACC Championship a year ago was the school’s first in 20 years. Combine that with their 70-33 debacle in the Orange Bowl against West Virginia and the Tigers have spent the majority of this season trying to earn back some credibility they lost after last season’s 2-4 collapse over their last six games.
For South Carolina, their history is even less accomplished as the Gamecocks have never won the SEC and has only represented the SEC East in the SEC championship game once (a 56-17 loss against Cam Newton and eventual national champion Auburn in 2010). Their best accomplishment as a football program was when running back George Rogers won the Heisman Trophy in 1980. In order for this rivalry to really reach new heights, both these schools are going to have to prove they can be consistent and stay relevant in the national picture. That is something both have done extremely well throughout this season and is the exact reason as to why this might just be one of the biggest games in the history of the rivalry as both schools enter the game ranked in the Top-15 for only the second time in the history of this storied rivalry.
Clemson enters the game ranked #11 in the BCS and a win over #12 South Carolina would likely place the Tiger’s in prime position for a BCS bid for the second year running. After dropping their only loss of the season on the road in Tallahassee, the Tigers have taken care of business against teams they should have and now look to grab a signature win over a ranked opponent. A win would give the Tigers 11-wins in a regular season for the first time since the school won the national championship in 1981. A win would validate the Tigers legitimacy as one of the nation’s elite teams as well as take some of the pressure off the Atlantic Coast Conference. Despite both Clemson and Florida State’s combined 20-2 record, both find themselves on the outside looking in when it comes to national championship aspirations. Wins this weekend against SEC foes would go a long way in providing instant boosts to both teams BCS rankings and credibility.
For South Carolina, Steve Spurrier will be looking to register back-to-back 10 win seasons at South Carolina for the first time in school history. A win over the Tigers would also give Spurrier his 65th career win at South Carolina, making him the all-time winningest coach of the Gamecock football program. Based on Spurrier’s on going public back and forth jabs with Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, moving into first place on the all-time wins list at South Carolina by beating Clemson in Death Valley would probably please the Old Ball Coach in a big way. He might even just have to give himself a game ball in the same fashion he awarded himself one last year after South Carolina’s 34-13 win over the Tigers in Columbia.
The Clemson and South Carolina game has been the social event of the year in South Carolina since 1896. While every game is important from week to week, it’s the game that carriers 365 days’ worth of bragging rights that seem to always matter a little bit more. When these two heated rivals take the field on Death Valley in front of a capacity crowd of 80,000 fans this game will take center stage for everyone in the small state of South Carolina. With the success of these two programs and major bowl implications on the line, it just might attract some national attention as well.