USC baseball coach Ray Tanner isn't sure he is going to like the new series format against rival Clemson, but he is ready to give it a try.
For the first time since 2000, the Gamecocks and Tigers aren't playing a four-game series, with an early-season two-game weekend series and a pair of single midweek games later in the year. Instead they'll play one three-game weekend series starting today, with each team getting a home game and the third game coming at Greenville's Fluor Field.
"It'll be one of those situations where, after we play this weekend or maybe after next year, (Clemson) coach (Jack) Leggett and I will take a look at it."
It's a two-year deal, with Clemson getting the first game at home this season and USC the last with the neutral-site game in the middle. Next year USC will take the first game at home and Clemson will close out the series at home.
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One thing is certain. A season-series winner will be produced, unlike 2004, 2005 and 2009, when the teams split the four games.
"There's more excitement going into this year because it is a series," Tanner said.
He compared the weekend three-game format to a conference series.
"We've got our best pitchers rested," Tanner said. "From that standpoint, it's a great matchup, a better matchup."
USC will start Blake Cooper, Sam Dyson and Tyler Webb on the mound against Clemson's Casey Harman, Will Lamb and Scott Weismann.
In the past, their midweek meetings were played without their best starters going because they were being saved for weekend conference series.
As always, no matter how many games are played, they will be hotly contested. Clemson (7-0) is ranked No. 13 by Baseball America, while USC (5-2) is No. 15, with its two losses coming at No. 14 East Carolina last weekend.
"It's our rival. It takes on greater significance," Tanner said. "It's not another game. The Clemson-South Carolina series doesn't get any bigger."
Tanner said both he and Leggett bring a lot of passion and intensity to the series and have great respect for each other's programs. Tanner is 25-22 against Clemson while at USC, while Leggett is 30-29 against USC while at Clemson.
"We're a little different, but we get along," Tanner said. "He wants to win in the worst way, and I want to win in the worst way."
The Gamecocks have won nine of the past 12 meetings with Clemson the past three seasons, but the Tigers won the final two games of last season's series.
USC outfielder Whit Merrifield is ready for the new format.
"I love it. I'm looking forward to it," he said. "We've got our best guys against their best guys. It'll give us a better idea of where we stand."
USC first baseman Nick Ebert likes the concept as well.
"In the past years you could split 2-2 and not know who had the better team," he said. "This time, you'll have a winner and the bragging rights."
Although the neutral site game is closer to Clemson, Tanner said the crowd should be split evenly. He noted that USC's previous games at Fluor Field against Furman have brought out big numbers of Gamecock fans who live in the Upstate.
"We'll have 50 percent of the attendance, if not more. I don't think it's anything other than a neutral game," he said.
If the teams split the first two games, Ebert is certain of one thing.
"It's nice to have that final game here Sunday."