Commentary: How Big is the South Carolina-Clemson game?

by - Correspondent -

Special to TigerNet from the Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Messenger

How big is the South Carolina-Clemson game?

"Professionally I never wanted to win a game more in my life," said University of South Carolina head coach Lou Holtz.

It's that big.

Today will mark the 102nd battle between the two Palmetto State rivals, and each year the game becomes bigger and bigger than the previous one.

"He doesn't want to win it anymore than I do," said Clemson coach Tommy Bowden.

This year's game may not feature two of the best in college football, but it features two teams that are equally hungry for a win.

South Carolina has redemption on its mind after last year's 63-17 whopping, as well as extra motivation from Holtz's retirement, which is expected to be announced after the game.

For the Tigers, it's senior day for 17 players, plus a berth in a postseason bowl game is at stake.

"That can be their edge," said Clemson defensive tackle Eric Coleman about Holtz's retirement, "but they're not any more hungry than we are."

Or are they?

The Gamecocks (6-4) say they have had this date circled on the calendar since the schedule was announced last winter.

"It's the same thing we've said all week," said USC defensive back Taqiy Muhammad. "We've got Clemson. Let's get that done." With all this emotion and animosity, today's game is sure to be a barnburner.

South Carolina wants to win one for the old ball coach, while the Tigers want to keep playing. This one has all the ingredients to be one of the best games this colorful rivalry has ever seen.

I have heard the comments on both sides of the fence, and it is hard to tell who is hungrier.

The Gamecocks have all the reasons in the world to want to win this game, but are they too hungry. Sometimes a team can get too fired up for a ball game and use up all of its energy in practice the week leading up to the game.

But I haven't seen the Gamecocks. I haven't looked into their eyes. They may want this game more than the Tigers, but that's hard to believe.

I've looked into the eyes of the Clemson players. You can see it. They want to beat USC. They always do.

They understand how bad the Clemson fans want this game; they understand why it is important to the University and its fan base. I'm not saying USC's players don't, but results don't lie.


Why has Clemson dominated this series? It is simple. Year in and year out Clemson as a whole has looked at South Carolina as its biggest game.

Sure the Tigers want to win the Atlantic Coast Conference Title, and sure they would love nothing more than to beat Florida State and Miami every year, but as one Clemson player described it the other day, "I'd rather lose to Duke if it means we beat South Carolina."

Look at the two schools' media guides. Clemson dedicates two pages ­ one just on great moments ­ to the 102-year old series. South Carolina, one. And let me clarify that, the one page looks just like the other 10 pages the university lists for its other 10 opponents on the Gamecocks schedule.

There is nothing there that says it is the biggest game on the Gamecocks' schedule.

I know South Carolina has to have some memorable moments in 102 years, right?

Now, it might just be me, but if I was a recruit and I looked at the USC media guide, I won't think playing Clemson was anymore different than playing Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Vanderbilt or even Kentucky. But if I looked at Clemson's media guide, I would definitely understand how important the USC game is.

Sure USC's fans want to beat Clemson. And yes, they view the Tigers as their biggest rival. But the past has shown the players and the coaches haven't.

Even though it is 2004, Clemson's coaching staffs ­ present and past ­ have reminded every Clemson team about 1975.

That's the year the Gamecocks' Jeff Grantz threw a 20-yard touchdown pass with 19 seconds to go to add salt to the Tigers wounds in a 56-20 USC victory. That game was a reminder to all Clemson teams to always play their best against USC and never let that happen again.

Since 1975, Clemson owns a 20-7-1 lead in the series.

Coincidence? I think not.

Sure, USC can use last year's 63-17 game as their rallying cry. But not so fast my friend.

Grantz was throwing the ball with 19 seconds to play, clearly showing the Gamecocks ran up the score. In 2003, Clemson didn't even pass the ball in the fourth quarter, and Chansi Stuckey's touchdown run with 3:28 to play came from 33 yards out after breaking several would-be-tackles.

So, since this is Holtz's last game, it probably is his biggest game of his coaching career. But for Clemson and its players, the USC game is not just the biggest game of their careers, it's the biggest game in the world.

Special to TigerNet from the Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Messenger

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