Don’t make the mistake of thinking this week’s games are little more than a way to transition from conference play to rivalry week.
Sure, it would take a sizable miracle—or a colossal collapse—for Clemson to lose to The Citadel on Saturday. Although the Tigers should proceed with caution, there is an overwhelming advantage in talent and athleticism that swings this game heavily in favor of the Tigers.
The same thing is true in Columbia, almost.
One major factor in the Palmetto State’s primary rivalry has been end-of-season scheduling. Clemson fans screamed from the rooftops about the disparity, and their cries were justified in many respects.
Consider the caliber of the opponents both teams have faced prior to facing each other over the past few seasons.
In 2012, the Tigers faced off against N.C. State while the Gamecocks dueled with Wofford.
In 2011, Clemson also squared off with N.C. State at the same time South Carolina was playing against The Citadel.
In 2010, the Tigers’ opponent was Wake Forest. The Gamecocks spent that Saturday running up the score on Troy.
In 2009, Clemson played Virginia. South Carolina played video games—the Gamecocks had a bye after losing to Florida.
To say the Gamecocks’ four-year winning streak over the Tigers is mutually exclusive of this inequity is to ignore all of the positives inherent in scheduling automatic-win non-conference games.
The last time South Carolina beat Clemson after competing against a conference foe was 2001. During this time period, the Tigers have met with a conference opponent every year. It has been an enormous advantage for the school in Columbia for several seasons, far from the realities of my childhood when the so-called “Orange Crush” of Tennessee, Florida, and Clemson made the closing quarter of South Carolina’s schedule so treacherous.
For the first time, the ACC understood the effect this has on preparation and health and decided to get into the game—not just with Clemson, but with Georgia Tech and Florida State too—in an effort to level the playing field in these important ACC-SEC rivalry games.
Also for the first time in a while, South Carolina’s opponent is more potent than Clemson’s and might require more expended energy to beat. While The Citadel is a slightly below-average team in the Southern Conference, Coastal Carolina is 9-1 and leads the Big South. Under former TD Ameritrade executive Joe Moglia, the Chanticleers have risen into the top ten in the FCS rankings and are a legitimate threat to score points against the Gamecocks.
The Chanticleers have an explosive offense. They are third in the FCS in scoring (45.5 PPG) and eighth in total offense (512.5 YPG). They also rank third in rushing offense (283.9 YPG) at the FCS level. Coastal leads the FCS in red zone scoring (94%) and third-down conversions (54.6%), and the Chanticleers are tied for first in ball security with only nine giveaways all season.
In other words, Coastal Carolina has an efficient attack that likes to run the ball and doesn’t turn it over. This is a problem for South Carolina. Florida’s obviously one-dimensional attack scored 14 points, and I know the Gamecocks represent by far the best defense the Chanticleers have faced, but don’t they seem more capable of moving the football than the Gators?
Maybe I’m wrong, but I expect a four-quarter fight in Columbia on Saturday. I expect a one-quarter fight in Clemson.
We’ll see how the Gamecocks do when they are the ones having to play catch-up during rivalry week.