Since The Associated Press poll was established for the 1936 season, South Carolina and Clemson have played each other 73 times. Both teams entered the game with a national ranking only three times.
That number alone speaks volumes to the rivalry’s lack of national significance over the years. It also speaks to the lack of national prominence established by both programs.
Saturday’s game will mark the 45th time since 1936 that neither team carried a national ranking. Yet, despite those eye-popping figures of ineptitude, both programs are on their way to nationally relevancy.
No doubt, Clemson is further along in the process. The Tigers have been challenging for ACC championships for most of the past decade with Tommy Bowden as coach. Bowden never could capture that elusive title, but give him credit for building a solid foundation that will serve the program well for years to come.
By contrast, in the same 10-year period, USC had a two-year run of high-level success before suffering from the wayward ways of a coach who left the program with NCAA probation. The result is a Steve Spurrier-led program in the fourth season of major rebuilding.
Few, if any, programs have quick turnarounds these days. There are too many programs committed to excellence for one to rise rapidly. There are no short cuts to sustained success anymore, and even the programs that build from the ground up are not guaranteed championships.
Clemson is the best example of that, as interim coach Dabo Swinney said this week.
“Clemson has everything that it needs to win a championship and compete for a championship,” Swinney said. “We’re not going to win them every year. These suckers are hard to come by now. People have this misconception out there that you’re just going to go win a national championship every other year. It just doesn’t happen that way.
“They’ve been playing a long time at Florida with pretty good players and 400 recruits to draw from every year (in Florida), and how many national championships have they won down there? Two? They’ve been playing a long time at Florida State with a lot of great players and how many have they won? Two. Clemson’s won one, and can win it again.”
There are not many schools that have won national championships, period. Since an official national champion was determined beginning with the 1936 season, only 33 programs have claimed a national title. Clemson is one of those 33, having won in 1981.
“If you’re competing for conference championships, you’ll have those opportunities to compete for national championships,” Swinney continued.
That is the defining characteristic of a program that gains national relevancy. It competes annually for conference championships, occasionally winning one and plays in a BCS bowl, something neither Clemson nor USC has done.
Again, both programs are on the right track. To get a better idea of where the programs stand, let’s look at a few specific categories and determine who currently has the edge in each area.
In conclusion, Clemson’s quest to gain national prominence has been 10 years in the making. USC’s trip is coming to the conclusion of a fourth season. So Clemson is closer to winning league titles and playing in BCS bowls.
Either way, it is apparent that the day is not far off when both teams are nationally ranked when they play to conclude the regular season. That day will signal the arrival of some national relevancy for both programs.
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