That one hurt, but this could heal

by - Correspondent -
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Ouch! That one hurts. It leaves a mark, a 34-17 result for the South Carolina Gamecocks.

No single loss to TCU, Maryland or Georgia Tech could bleed so much.

But beat Georgia Tech this week, and it will scar so little. The wounds will heal, no matter the Chickens pecking at the scab.

The Clemson Tigers would win the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship.

Vegas picks them to lose a close one, but they were longer-shots to reach the title game. They haven’t won the crown since 1991. Prior to the collapse in Columbia, first-year coach Dabo Swinney orchestrated a six-game winning streak, beating Miami along the way, to earn a rematch against a Yellow Jacket team that won eight in a row after losing to Miami. The second week of the season, ages ago, Georgia Tech overcame a Clemson rally to win 30-27 in Atlanta.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Kyle Parker came of age – or of one older – in that game. The Yellow Jackets scored on an 82-yard run, an 85-yard punt return and a pass on a fake field goal to storm ahead, but Parker threw for 261 yards and three touchdowns as the Tigers took a 27-24 lead in the fourth quarter.

The blond baseball player from Jacksonville will have to throw strikes again for the Tigers to triumph in Tampa Bay.

ACC Player of the Year C.J. Spiller can’t foot the load alone on an injured toe. Tech’s grinding ground offense is well oiled now, and the Jackets will take shots down-field through long air. ACC Defensive Player of the Year Derrick Morgan will rush a Clemson offensive line with something to prove after last week’s performance in Williams-Brice.

And Georgia Tech has something to prove, too. Georgia beat favored rival Georgia Tech last week, just as South Carolina beat favored Clemson – just as West Virginia beat favored rival Pittsburgh, just as underdogs Auburn and Texas A&M threatened to do against their rivals, Bowl Championship Series No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Texas, respectively.

Still, it’s bad medicine to chalk up last week’s loss to the Gamecocks as a fluke of rivalry, a product of looking ahead, an eventual statistical likelihood or anything less than a stinging defeat.

Don’t get stung again, and everything will be alright.

That one hurt, too

Clemson’s men’s basketball team has been better than the football team for years now. Coach Oliver Purnell has won more and more games each of the last five years, and the Tigers have enough firepower and range to make up for the departure of Terrence Oglesby this year. They’re ranked No. 18 by the Associated Press. They’re talented and well-rounded as a squad, capable of making a run in the NCAA tournament – but they’re also capable of blowing a 23-point lead to Illinois in Littlejohn Coliseum.

That one hurt.

I wonder if they have the mid-range touch and court leadership to make up for the departure of K.C. Rivers. He was steady. At times struggling to get the ball inside to Trevor Booker, and searching for consistent production in the half-court offense, Clemson’s been streaky – even on defense, even in wins.

There is time to develop.

The Tigers thrive on forcing turnovers, but turnovers of their own have hurt, as they have the football team – as they do any team. If Clemson’s to approach defending national champion North Carolina and No. 5 Duke in the league race, the team will have to mimic the football team – a fab freshman will have to step up and the Tigers will have to develop an edge.

They (7-2) play South Carolina (6-1) Sunday.

Lies and statistics

The numbers don’t always add up, especially in football – must be because there are fewer games and less math.

The SEC has three football teams ranked in the AP Top 25, while the ACC has four. That order of superiority is reversed by other measures. Virginia Tech (9-3 overall, 6-2 ACC), ranked the ACC’s best at No. 11, is not invited to the league’s championship party.

Georgia Tech beat Virginia Tech and went 10-2 overall, 7-1 in the ACC to win the Coastal Division. Clemson went 8-4 overall, 6-2 in the ACC to win the Atlantic Division. The Tigers are ranked No. 25 in the AP poll. Georgia Tech is ranked No. 12 in both the AP and USA Today polls. They Jackets will remain ahead of Clemson after this weekend, but that doesn’t mean they’ll win.

Clemson placed three players on the All-ACC first team – Spiller, tight end Michael Palmer and safety DeAndre McDaniel. Spiller made the first team as a specialist, the second team as a running back. Georgia Tech placed six on the All-ACC first team, five on offense, among them quarterback Josh Nesbitt and former ACC Player of the Year Jonathan Dwyer, the first-team All-ACC running back.

Spiller leads the ACC in all-purpose running with 184 yards per game and in kickoff returns with an average of 35.8 yards. He has four kickoff returns for touchdowns this year. He’s fourth in the nation in all-purpose yardage and second in kickoff return average. He’s fifth in NCAA history in all-purpose yardage with 7,115. Of all the highlight-reel games he’s registered, it may take another of his best in a winning effort in prime time to earn an invitation to the Heisman ceremony in New York, where they could invite as few as three players.

A win Saturday earns an invitation to the BCS, almost certainly to the Orange Bowl, while a loss would leave postseason fate to politics. The ACC title game loser could go to the Gator Bowl, or a salute to retiring Florida State icon Bobby Bowden could leave that team to the Champs Sports Bowl – or some other scenario could still play out, according to reports. It’s best not to leave it to chance.

Clemson managed only 48 rushing yards and three rushing first downs against the Gamecocks last week. The Tigers need to triple that output Saturday. They allowed 223 yards rushing last week. That was too much then, but allowing that much this week would bode well. Tech is capable of double that. The Jackets rushed for 301 yards in the first meeting.

The forecast for Raymond James Stadium Saturday is iffy. Clemson is as experienced as any team in America in the rain this year, but Tech’s attack is better suited for the slop.

Hater’s game

Two-time ACC Coach of the Year Paul Johnson of Georgia Tech, on apologizing for the ACC title contenders’ showing against SEC rivals last week:

“No, we’re 10-2; we don’t have to apologize for anything – maybe for losing to Miami AND losing to Georgia. We would’ve liked to win every game. But, that’s football. I told someone earlier you can pick and choose. Nebraska is playing in (the Big 12) Championship game, and they lost to Virginia Tech. Do they need to apologize? Pitt’s playing for the Big East Championship and lost to NC State; they don’t need to apologize. Stanford’s had a pretty good year, and they lost to Wake Forest; they don’t need to apologize. When you play, it’s going to happen.

“I can understand the storyline because the two teams played two SEC teams. Last year, us and Clemson both beat Georgia and South Carolina, and there didn’t seem to be any kind of storyline – no one was saying the ACC is dominant. Every team has good players. Certainly Georgia and South Carolina have their share of good players. So does Clemson, and I would like to think Georgia Tech has some, too. We’re going to be here for awhile, so it won’t be the last time we play Georgia.”

That won’t be the last time we play South Carolina, either.

Post-game shake

As much as it hurts, I don’t have a good feeling about Saturday. Maybe I have a hangover from losing to the Coots. Maybe the option gives me a headache. An offense that averages 35 points per game tenses me. A program whose insolence bore the birth of Clemson’s $2 bill tradition needles me. Tech’s 48-24-2 all-time advantage pains me.

I’m traveling south with several thousands friends in search of the cure. Here’s hoping Sunday’s Chicken soup back home on the hardcourt goes with oranges and champagne.

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