|Wednesday, November 21, 2012, 11:22 AM- -|
Before Clemson opened its doors, we had a rivalry with the University of South Carolina. Many at South Carolina never wanted Clemson to happen and the rivalry began.
One thing has not changed. We don't like each other. We don't like each other's campuses. We don't like each other's mascots. We don't like each other's colors, coaches, players, cheerleaders, fight songs, bands, play-by-play and color guys, sideline reporters, pre-game entrances, tailgating atmospheres, stadiums and just about anything else that we can associate our schools with.
But many things have changed throughout the rivalry. We haven't played each other every year because safety was a concern a few times.
We started out playing in November on Saturdays but moved it to Thursdays in October during the State Fair and called it "Big Thursday." Now we are back to playing on Saturdays in November again.
We used to play only in Columbia but now we rotate between the two schools.
We used to play in the same conference but South Carolina dropped out and it was a game between a team in a conference and an independent. Now the game is played between two teams in separate conferences.
We have played night games and day games. We have played on hot days and cold nights.
This rivalry has seen trick plays, bad calls, upsets and fraternity pranks. I think it has seen every combination of uniforms each team could ever even think of.
Every year the game is for bragging rights but every once in a while it means something more. We have played each other for the right to go to the Independence Bowl and lately it has been higher stakes.
Every year our rivalry game is the most important game in our state but for the most part our game has taken a backseat in terms of what it means across the nation. That is different this season. For one of the few times in the game's history, this one has national implications including perhaps a bid to a BCS game.
This year's game is not the biggest in terms to what it means to Clemson. The 1981 game saw the Tigers enter the game ranked second in the country. The 29-13 win over the Gamecocks helped push Clemson to the national title.
This is not the biggest game in the series for South Carolina either. I would say the 1984 game where they came in ranked ninth despite being ranked second the week before until Navy upset the Gamecocks was the biggest. South Carolina beat Clemson 22-21 that season.
But in terms to what it means to both teams, this year might be the biggest in the rivalry. South Carolina is trying to get to 11 wins (after a bowl game) for the second year in a row. They are trying to improve their bowl status and there is still a chance the Gamecocks can make it to the BCS.
Clemson is trying to win 11 regular season games for only the second time in school history. The Tigers are trying to finish in the top ten and possible top five and Clemson is still in decent shape to get to a BCS bowl as well.
For one of the few times in our rivalry our game is more significant than Auburn-Alabama. It means more than Ohio State-Michigan or USC-UCLA.
Years ago Army-Navy was bigger but that is not the case anymore. Some other big ones like Texas-Texas A&M and Oklahoma-Nebraska don't even happen anymore.
Yes, the 2012 Clemson-Carolina game has as much riding on the line for both teams as it ever has. We didn't like each other in 1998 when Clemson entered the game at 2-8 and South Carolina was 1-9. Imagine what it is going to feel like this year with Clemson and Carolina combining for 19 wins coming into the game.
Part of me says this game will be like every other one I have been to. I started going to this rivalry game in 1974 and I can't ever remember liking the Gamecocks any less or disliking them any more each year.
As fans we act like this game is the last game that each school will ever play. When we win, we become message board monsters and act like this is the win that will doom our rival. When we lose, we act like the death penalty would be easier to swallow.
The truth is that winning is never the end of our rival and losing is not the end of our program. Clemson won the national title in 1981 but South Carolina's best teams, until recently, came in 1984 and 1987. The Gamecocks have had their two best teams in school history the last two seasons, yet Clemson has signed great classes and is currently ranked in the top ten in the country.
I have theories about the two schools' immediate future. I think Clemson is trending higher than USC right now. I think Dabo is climbing and building. I think Spurrier has had some great teams the last two seasons but I don't see them replacing Alshon Jefferies, Stephon Gilmore, Melvin Ingram and Marcus Lattimore with All-Americans the last two classes.
Don't get me wrong, I still think South Carolina will be a very good football team in the next few seasons but not a top ten team. They have been ultra-talented the last two seasons. I can see them winning eight or nine games but my hunch is that with Florida and Georgia back, the Gamecocks won't have a lot of chances at 11 wins. How much longer will Spurrier be there? Who will replace the five stars?
I do feel Clemson is still improving and even better things are still to come. I think this is a double digit win team next season and some think this is a pre-season top ten team.
Again, I could be wrong because the one thing that is constant in this rivalry, besides the hatred, is change.
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