Clemson's Dabo Swinney Continues To Play With Fire

By Travis Patterson

College football fans are greedy by nature and often request more than their teams are capable of.  This is the predicament that Clemson is in at this point in their football history. However, you simply can’t have it all.

What is better, 10-win seasons or a win over South Carolina? It has become crystal clear that it is not feasible to ask for both seeing as how Clemson lost to South Carolina for a record-setting fifth straight time last Saturday. For the third-straight season, Clemson has totalled at least 10-wins but has failed to beat their rival.

Tommy Bowden would never have let this happen. Five years ago, South Carolina was just another game on the schedule, a game that usually ended in storybook fashion for Clemson. However, this typical feel-good season finale has now been re-written as a horror story. The Tigers turned the ball over six times, constantly putting their defense behind the 8-ball and forcing the game plan to change.

Clemson outgained South Carolina, but still found ways to self-destruct when momentum hung in the balance. The mental edge goes to South Carolina.

Dabo Swinney is now 1-5 against Steve Spurrier‘s Gamecocks, with all defeats coming by double-digits.  The last Clemson coach to have a losing record against the in-state rival was legend Frank Howard (15-16-2) from 1940-1969. Each time the Tigers coughed it up against the Gamecocks, the frustration mounted for each Clemson fan.

So where do the Tigers go from here? Are the fans content with winning 10 games every year with a loss to South Carolina, or would they compromise for an eight-win season if it included a win over the Gamecocks? Swinney cannot dissect Spurrier’s football mind, and the Head Ball Coach sports a Grinch-like grin every time he sees the sweatshirt-wearing optimist on the opposing sideline.

How long can Swinney keep this up? Right now, it seems as if Swinney is tempting the Palmetto state gods with each loss to the squad from Columbia. 10-win seasons in a poor ACC can only please the demanding Tigers fans for so long, especially when Swinney is the new John Cooper of college football.

Cooper coached the Ohio State Buckeyes from 1988-2000 and is a Hall of Fame-caliber coach, but went just 2-10-1 against Michigan. Cooper once said that Michigan was just another game. Try telling that to folks in Columbus, OH. For Clemson, losing to South Carolina is unacceptable. The Gamecocks have only one conference championship (1969 ACC). Clemson has almost as many bowl wins (17) as South Carolina has bowl appearances (18).

I’m not sure why Clemson crumbles like a cookie every time the two teams collide now, but it better get fixed sooner rather than later. I understand that the Gamecocks are in their glory years of football (although they have no championships to show for it), but the Tigers have the better program, facilities, resources, recruiting and tradition.

Every year, the same question is asked: how long can Swinney continue to play with fire before he gets burned? Only time will tell, but another offseason filled with the feeling of embarrassment and underachievement will overshadow all of the favorable achievements that Swinney has accomplished during his tenure at Clemson.

Travis Patterson, ACC Writer Rantsports.  Football Writers Association of America.  Follow on Twitter @tpat20.

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