Burns: Thankful to be orange

by - Correspondent -
C.J. Spiller and James Davis rushed for 179 yards against the Gamecocks last season.

Like never before, there is cause to look beyond the Gamecocks as the big game approaches. The rivalry bears championship insignificance rather than national relevance, since one team didn’t hold up its end.

No matter the outcome Saturday against the University of South Carolina, Clemson faces a rematch with Georgia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship Dec. 5 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay, where the Tigers could win their first league title since 1991 and earn a berth in the Bowl Championship Series’ Orange Bowl.

C.J. Spiller would benefit from resting his gnarled toe. Many others could be rejuvenated with time off. If a championship breakthrough is the most important goal, it makes sense to take it easy Saturday afternoon to prepare for next week’s contest with consequences.

But if you don’t think there are consequences playing the Chickens, try losing to them. It has happened on rare occasion. It will happen again, sooner or later, in all likelihood, if they keep playing every year.

And that will be the worst year of your life. They’ll magically multiply, full of bile, fantasy and propaganda – at the grocery store, the gas station, the barber shop, the office. Every day. Every day of the year.

If you grow old enough, you may have to live through it more than once.

Fans who refer to the Chickens as simply “Carolina” know what the rivalry is like. They were raised in the midst of the obnoxious, jealous garnet. The Gamecocks stand for all that is to be overcome in this world: the inept; the wicked; carpet-bagging urban arrogance to honest suburban effort; politicians and bureaucrats against farmers, architects and engineers.

Many children learn this early. Others learn it later in life. The ways we come to know vary, but everyone south of D.C. understands orange and garnet don’t mix. You can’t be neither or both, even if you’re really some other color.

As usual, Dabo Swinney gets it. He said it’s similar to what he grew up with in Alabama.

“It’s a game that means a lot to the state on both sides,” the Clemson coach said. “It hasn’t had quite the national effect as much as maybe the Alabama-Auburn game has had. Those two teams are in the same conference, the same division, so a lot of times that game is for the SEC Championship or a higher ranking. This game historically has not had as much effect on a national scene with rankings and championships and things like that. But make no mistake, it doesn’t take a backseat at all to any rivalry from a fan-base standpoint and people wanting to win.”

My parents met at the University of Tennessee and settled on the other side of Columbia as free agents. They hadn’t learned to loathe the Gamecocks. They had no tie to either or any state university. They fostered love of the Vols, but they didn’t fight me and even followed as I blossomed into full orange – perhaps pondering a share of in-state tuition.

“I don’t know why, you just chose Clemson,” my father told me.

I was too young to remember. My first words were “Go Tigers!” I chose orange by the grace of God. For that this holiday season, I am thankful.

I’m looking forward to Saturday, and I won’t be taking it easy.

Lies and statistics

The numbers don’t always add up.
Four of the last five years the team entering the game with the better record lost. Clemson is 8-3 overall and 6-2 in the ACC this year, and South Carolina is 6-5 overall and 3-5 in the SEC. The Tigers are ranked 15th by the AP, 16th by USA Today and 18th by the BCS.

Each of the last three years the team with an off-week before the showdown lost. South Carolina has an extra week to prepare for the Tigers this year. The Cocks fought No. 1 Florida (11-0, 8-0 SEC) before falling 24-14 two weeks ago. Clemson won its sixth game in a row last week 34-21 over Virginia (3-8, 2-5 ACC).

Clemson leads the all-time series with South Carolina, the third longest uninterrupted series in history, 65-37-4, and the Tigers are 49-29-3 in Columbia. Only gravity is more likely than a Clemson win. Eggs are beaten less than the Gamecocks.

Safety DeAndre McDaniel has tied Robert O’Neal and Justin Miller for the Clemson season record of eight interceptions. He’s second in the nation behind Rahim Moore of UCLA, who has nine. The Jim Thorpe Award for the nation’s top defensive back is a joke without McDaniel as a finalist.

Clemson’s CJ Spiller needs 26 all-purpose yards to become the fifth player in NCAA history to reach 7,000 for a career. The Heisman hopeful and Doak Walker Award finalist averages 188 per game this year. He needs three touchdowns to tie the Clemson season record of 18 by Travis Zachery. He needs 106 rushing yards to reach 1,000 for the season.

Spiller has 894 yards rushing, 421 receiving, 208 on punt returns and 543 on kickoff returns. He affects games in ways that cannot be measured as well as ways statistically credited to the team. Thanks to his long runs and opponents’ scared squib kicks, he’s the reason Clemson has an average starting field position after a kickoff of its own 38-yard-line, compared to opponents’ average of their own 24. He has three kickoff returns for touch¬downs this year. Another would be the seventh of his career and set an NCAA record.

As a freshman Spiller rushed for 155 yards against the Gamecocks, the third most for any Clemson running back against South Carolina.

Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker leads all freshmen nationally with eight wins. In this six-game winning streak he’s completed 91 of 144 passes for 1,187 yards and 13 touchdowns with just four interceptions.

South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia is the third quarterback in Gamecock history to have four 300-yard games in one season, joining Steve Taneyhill and Todd Ellis, but his legs will be as dangerous as his arms. This will be his first start against Clemson, just as this will be Parker’s first start against Carolina.

Hater’s game

South Carolina wide receiver Moe Brown, on last year’s 31-14 Clemson win:

“The loss last year was really hard, especially because we beat ourselves. Those ones are harder to handle. It was a bad loss. It was embarrassing. You never want to lose. But if you do, you want to lose with effort and feel like the other team beat you and not that you beat yourself.”

Hey Moe, 17 points is beating yourself pretty badly. That’s a lot of own-goals. Which team is going to beat you this time? Let us know afterward if you tried.

Postgame shake

Carolina is easy to pick on, kind of like a booger, but our misguided neighbors are football fans, too. Not everyone can be a Tiger. Some of my best friends are Coots. That’s why the rivalry matters.

And that’s why I’ll speak to friends on both sides before and after – with a thankful smile.

Other Columns by Michael Burns

- Burns: Prepare for the Tigers to blow it

- Burns: Young blood makes tight ends sexy

- Burns: It is more than it is

- Burns: C.J. Spiller is Clemson’s best, ever

- Burns: I hate it when Tommy Bowden is right

- Burns: Watch it the old-fashioned way

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