Dabo Swinney just chuckled when a reporter asked him during his weekly teleconference with the media on Sunday if he thought about maybe sitting a couple of his players for next Saturday’s rivalry game with South Carolina so they might be rested up for the ACC Championship Game on Dec. 3.
“This is the biggest game of the year. It is the one that is next. You obviously are not from South Carolina,” Clemson’s head coach said. “You are going to live with this one for the rest of the year so we will put everything we have into trying to win this game. I can assure you.”
The Tigers, who moved up to No. 3 in the latest Amway Coaches Poll and to No. 4 in the Associated Top 25 on Sunday, will host the Gamecocks at 7:30 p.m. in Death Valley next Saturday night.
Under first-year head coach Will Muschamp, South Carolina has won four of its last five games and became bowl eligible on Saturday with a 44-31 victory over Western Carolina. It was a big turnaround for a program that last year finished 3-9 after Steve Spurrier left the team midway through the season, and this year was 2-4 following a loss to Georgia on Oct. 9.
“I think (Muschamp) has done an excellent job. Obviously, they had a very disappointing season last year and you know you have to start somewhere, and so to come in year one and to get them back bowl eligible is a huge step in the right direction. As a new coaching staff, that’s what you try to do,” Swinney said. “You create some new momentum in your program and they have certainly done that.
“They have had some big wins. They have competed and have played hard all year.”
During the last five-game stretch, the Gamecocks (6-5) took down Tennessee on Oct. 29 before playing No. 13 Florida tough down in The Swamp on Nov. 12.
South Carolina’s turnaround began when Muschamp decided to burn the redshirt of freshman quarterback Jake Bentley and started him against UMass on Oct. 22. Since then, the Gamecocks are 4-1, while Bentley has completed 66.2 percent of his passes for 989 yards, six touchdowns and one interception.
“I think they have done a heck of a job. This is going to be a tough game,” Swinney said. “We all know South Carolina-Clemson is a tough game regardless,” Swinney said. “You can just look at last year. It really does not matter what the records are and all of that type of stuff.”
Clemson (10-1) opened in Vegas as a 25.5-point favorite, and has won the last two games in the series after the Gamecocks won five straight from 2009-’13.
“When you get into these rivalry-type games, there are a lot of emotions and anything can happen,” Swinney said. “We know we have to play very well, but they are back in a bowl. It’s their last game and we know we have another one next week.
“However, this is a season of its own. Both teams want to win, and I think they have done a heck of a job.”