By Will Vandervort.
For much of the 111 years of the Clemson-Carolina rivalry, the Gamecocks have been a mediocre program at best. Fifty five times, USC has come into the state’s biggest game with a .500 record or worse. Actually, 31 of years the Gamecocks had a losing mark.
Clemson has entered the big game with a winning record on 68 occasions and only once since 1977 have the Tigers approached the big game with a losing record. That came in 1998, by the way.
Through the years and decades, the Tigers have owned their biggest rival to the south, winning 24 games in the series from 1976-2008 and 65 of the 111 games overall. But when running back Jamie Harper fumbled the ball as Clemson was going in for a second touchdown and a two-score lead early in the 2009 game, the mechanics of the rivalry suddenly shifted.
USC recovered the fumble and returned it to midfield, setting up its first score. It was the first six points of 62 in the last five years in which the Gamecocks converted a Clemson turnover into points. After losing 10 of the previous 12 meetings in the series USC handed the Tigers a 34-17 defeat and they have not looked back.
Playing with some of the best teams in the program’s history, South Carolina defeated the Tigers again in 2010, 2011, 2012 and again in 2013 – five in a row, the longest winning streak in the rivalry since Clemson won seven straight from 1934-’40.
“God never said it was going to be easy. And I always say, ‘God never said oops,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said on Tuesday from the WestZone at Memorial Stadium.
The last five years definitely haven’t been easy for Clemson. During that time, the Gamecocks recorded three straight 11-win seasons when prior to 2010 only one Carolina team won 10 games in a season and that came in 1984.
“For whatever reason, God chose me to be the head coach at Clemson during the greatest era in the history of South Carolina football. I’m a competitive guy and obviously Coach (Steve) Spurrier’s legacy speaks for itself. He is a Hall of Famer and he is a great football coach and has been for a long time.
“To me, what he has done at South Carolina is his legacy.”
But can No. 22 Clemson (8-3) turn the arrow towards the Tigers again in the rivalry when the long-time rivals hook up this Saturday in Death Valley at noon on ESPN.
“They have been really good,” Swinney said. “That’s the other thing. Everybody wants to get mad at Clemson, but no one wants to give South Carolina any credit. They have been really good.”
But that has not made life any easier for the Tigers or their fans, which have to live with the result for 365 days a year. The one thing they could count on for much of the previous 32 years prior to 2009 was a win over the Gamecocks.
This past year, or at least until the spring, the Tigers have been counting down the days until they get their next opportunity to beat South Carolina.
“It is not something that has ruined our six years here, but it is something we have to get changed,” Swinney said. “It really is a season of its own. You have a season and you have South Carolina. We don’t say anything about it and we never have.
“We want everyone to be reminded every day that, ‘Hey, that game is coming and it only comes once a year… You can lose other games and most will not say much about it. But when you lose this game, it never stops.”