Everything is set up kind of nice for Clemson, don’t you think?
The Tigers sit at No. 3 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings. They’re in a perfect position to truly defend their national championship. Now they just have to win their next two games—at South Carolina and vs. Miami in the ACC Championship Game—to secure that opportunity.
Clemson (10-1) has already been in playoff mode since it did the unthinkable on Oct. 13 and lost at Syracuse. The Tigers have since responded with four straight wins, including a 38-31 victory at then No. 20 NC State on Nov. 4. That was the third time they defeated a ranked opponent on the road in a hostile environment this season.
Earlier this year the Tigers won at then No. 14 Louisville (Sept. 16) and at then No. 12 Virginia Tech (Sept. 30). Prior to this season, just once in Clemson history had the Tigers won two road games over nationally ranked teams. That came in 1950 as those Tigers posted a 9-0-1 record, which included a 15-14 victory over Miami in the 1951 Orange Bowl Classic.
On Saturday, Clemson is going to have to beat a ranked team on the road for a fourth time this season, and this one might be the toughest of them all.
South Carolina, who has not been ranked all year, for the first time was ranked by the College Football Playoff Committee when the committee released their rankings on Tuesday night.
The Gamecocks (8-3) came in ranked No. 24.
“It is just another tough road environment,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “This is Game Twelve. If you are going to have a good season, then you have to go on the road and win. Our guys have done a heck of a job with that.”
Playing at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia isn’t just another tough road game. The Gamecocks are playing well and are having their best season since the 2013 squad went 11-2 and finished No. 4 in the final Associated Press rankings.
Also, it’s a night game, and let’s be honest here, Gamecock fans are not exactly known for being a hospitable fan base.
Recently, Williams-Brice has not been too kind to the Tigers either. Prior to Clemson’s 2015 win down there, the Gamecocks had won three straight at home over the Tigers in 2009, 2011 and 2013.
Another statistic working against the Tigers, South Carolina owns a 5-2 record in the series when both teams come in ranked in the top 25. Clemson is 0-4 in those meetings in Columbia.
Also, the Tigers are just 1-5 all-time in Columbia when facing a ranked Gamecock team, the lone win coming in 2005 when Charlie Whitehurst led the Tigers to a 13-9 come-from-behind victory.
But of course we all know Clemson is a different program when it comes to road games in recent years. Before losing at Syracuse, the Tigers had won 12 straight on the road, which included a win at Florida State in 2016.
Clemson has also played in some big-time games on the road or on neutral fields, and a lot of the players on this year’s team have played on the big stage countless times.
“Every game is a challenge whether you are home or on the road, but when you go on the road, there is just another level of focus you have to bring because there is obviously a lot of energy against you and things like that,” Swinney said. “That is what makes it fun. It is great to go and play in environments like that. We all know the emotions tied to this game. It is one of the best weeks of the year. It is fun to be a part of it.”
And what makes it even more entertaining is the fact it is a defacto playoff game for Clemson. So before the Tigers can “Smell the Roses” or taste the ‘Sugar,’ they must first eat their chicken.