COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – The Palmetto State has its own high-profile, highly ranked rivalry showdown in the Southeast this weekend.
Sixth-ranked Clemson will take on No. 10 South Carolina with title implications, spice and state rivalry drama.
The Tigers (10-1) and Gamecocks (9-2) hope to show they each belong in a BCS game.
“Sort of neat that we have two teams in the top 10 that started the season there and are still there after 11 games,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. “I know our state is proud of the two football schools. It should be a heck of a game.”
Maybe more so this year than any other in a series first played in 1896: It’s the first time both held top-10 rankings in 111 meetings.
“To have two teams from the state of South Carolina nationally ranked, that makes this rivalry that much better,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “Alabama and Auburn got two top-10 teams playing in their rivalry game, we got two top-10 teams playing in our rivalry game, and I think it makes for an exciting game.”
Especially for the fans with what’s at stake for both teams.
The Gamecocks own a four-game rivalry win streak into Saturday night’s game at Williams-Brice Stadium, something they’d only accomplished one time previously from 1951-54. South Carolina has never won five straight.
Clemson last won in 2008 when Swinney was interim coach of a troubled program. He was carried off the field after the 31-14 victory as the crowd chanted his name. The interim tag was removed from Swinney’s title two days later.
For all the turnarounds and accomplishments Swinney’s enjoyed – the Tigers have won 10 or more games the past three seasons – this hole in the resume may sting the most.
“When you’re a coach, all the losses you live with. The big state rival, that one’s more so, because everybody in your state lives with it,” he said. “Everybody wants those bragging rights.”
The game marks the final duel between Clemson’s record-setting quarterback Tajh Boyd and South Carolina’s pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney, who pledged never to lose to the Tigers in his career.
A year ago, Clowney tracked Boyd all over Death Valley and registered 4 1-2 sacks in the Gamecocks’ 27-17 victory. He turned up the heat in the rivalry at Southeastern Conference media days in July, saying Boyd was scared of him.
“I like to pick at quarterbacks. That’s what I do,” Clowney said. “If they can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen. I’m just playing.”
Boyd has largely laughed off the comments, but the fifth-year senior does not want to leave Clemson without beating the Gamecocks. He said it will take the entire team to end a streak Tiger players hear about over and over again.
“This game is bigger than one player,” Boyd said. “It’s not me versus him or him versus anybody else.”
Clowney and Boyd were Heisman Trophy favorites when the year began.
Clowney, considered by many the NFL draft’s top prospect, has had just two sacks in a year of injuries, triple teams and a misunderstanding with his coach that raised questions about his commitment to the Gamecocks.
Boyd’s chances took a hit in Clemson’s 51-14 pounding by Florida State last month, although he has thrown for 1,309 yards and 13 touchdowns in the Tigers four wins since the Seminole stomp.
Boyd has not been about to put up the gaudy stats against the Gamecocks.
In three appearances, Boyd has passed for just 339 yards and thrown more interceptions than touchdowns (3 to 2). Boyd’s been sacked a 14 times in those three games and rushed for minus 15 yards.
South Carolina could have another game a week later, should No. 5 Missouri fall to No. 19 Texas A&M and give the Gamecocks the SEC Eastern Division. That game starts 45 minutes after the Gameocks kickoff.
But Spurrier said the Gamecocks are focused on Clemson, not the Missouri-Texas A&M game.
“We won’t think anything about it,” the coach said. “We really won’t.”