The 11-game preseason schedule is complete. Clemson–South Carolina week is upon us which means that records and previous victories can be dismissed. All that matters now is the game Saturday night at 7 p.m. in Williams-Brice Stadium. Amidst an autumn haze and sophisticated fans, Clemson and South Carolina will duel on the gridiron for Palmetto State bragging rights. Separated by less than 150 miles, these uneasy neighbors do not need to be schooled in the importance of this particular football game. Pure hatred, rather than respect and honor are on display in this rivalry.
The teams first met in 1896, predating the first World Series by seven years. It is a deeply-rooted rivalry that started out politically. Some officials thought that South Carolina was not doing an adequate job of educating young people, so Clemson University was formed. Clemson holds a 65-41-4 edge in the series, but the Gamecocks have won the last four.
The last win for the Tigers came in 2008 when Dabo Swinney was the interim head coach. Clemson won the game 31-14, and two days later Swinney was named the permanent head coach. Swinney is currently 1-4 against the Gamecocks. The last Clemson head coach to have a losing record to the Gamecocks was Frank Howard (15-16-2) from 1940-1969. Swinney has been hearing about this game ever since he arrived at Clemson. Ironically, the game that secured him of his job in 2008, is the game that haunts him every year in late November now.
There are a lot of Clemson players, coaches, and officials that need this win, but the fans might need the win more than anybody. Clemson fans are not used to being beaten by South Carolina, who is historically one of the worst football programs in division 1 history. Ever since Howard resigned, every Clemson coach has been able to beat the Gamecocks. Hootie Ingram (2-1), Red Parker (2-2), Charley Pell (2-0), Danny Ford (7-3-1), Ken Hatfield (3-1), Tommy West (4-1) and Tommy Bowden (7-2) all were able to beat South Carolina on a consistent basis. Not Swinney.
South Carolina is in the middle of their glory days of football right now with no championships to show for it. The Gamecocks and their fans love beating Clemson because they are not used to it. The rivalry was buried for a long time, but now it has risen from the grave. Clemson and their fans feel like it is a rivalry again and are hungry for a win.
After the Tigers beat the Gamecocks, 63-17, in Columbia in 2003, tempers began to flare. It all reached a boiling point in the 2004 game when Clemson was up 29-7 in the fourth quarter and a massive brawl between the players broke out. It was a low point for the rivalry but demonstrated how bad these teams dislike each other. The hate-level is starting to rise again with the two schools.
An aspect of this game that gets overlooked is the theme of redemption. Last year Clemson was in a very similar situation. A win over South Carolina and a berth in a BCS game would be very likely, but Clemson lost 27-17 at home. This year the winner of this game could be heading to a BCS bowl game, giving Clemson the ultimate mulligan. Redemption will also be on the minds of Swinney, Tajh Boyd and the Clemson fans. Winning big games is nice, but the Clemson fans never needed a win more than they do this weekend. Clemson needs this win to restore order and prevent South Carolina from winning five straight, something that has never happened. The two schools have only met as ranked opponents five times with South Carolina winning four of those games. This weekend they will meet as top-10 teams for the first time giving this game an added jolt on energy.
Clemson does not just want to win; they need to win.
Travis Patterson, ACC Writer Rantsports.com. Football Writers Association of America. Follow on Twitter @tpat20. https://twitter.com/tpat20