There was a time this season it looked liked the South Carolina-Clemson game would be a big deal only to the Tigers, one last regular season road bump on the way to the ACC title game and then the CFB Playoff.
That’s still very much on the line for No. 4 Clemson (10-1), but in the last month, as the Gamecocks (8-3) have won four of their past five games, the game suddenly looks like a big deal for South Carolina, too.
That is chiefly because South Carolina now looks to have a legitimate chance of winning the game, not a great chance, it still is a 14-point underdog, but the Gamecocks have made up more ground on their in-state rival in the last year than most expected. Clemson won last year’s game 56-7 and although it had to replace Deshaun Watson, Mike Williams and plenty of other talent, is moving toward another special season. In the meantime, though, the Gamecocks have ground out enough progress to head into Saturday night with some confidence in their step.
Here are the possibilities in front of the Gamecocks: win their ninth game of the season, end a three-game losing streak against their archrival, move up the SEC’s bowl pecking order, give all but one of their players their first win over the Tigers, and, maybe most tantalizing, probably knock Clemson out of CFB Playoff consideration.
“Yeah, we would love to do that,” South Carolina cornerback Jamarcus King said of the prospect of ruining the Tigers’ season.
Center Alan Knott doesn’t believe all the pressure is on Clemson, though.
“The pressure is on both of us,” he said. “We are looking to make a 10-win season of this season and they’re definitely in the way of that. I think as for them, it’s going to be a tough game for them too because they have to have this win. It’d be awesome (to spoil their season). We’ve only beaten these guys once since I’ve been here, and it’d be a sweet ending to it all.”
This will be the final game in Williams-Brice Stadium for South Carolina’s seniors, and it should be a fun ending as the 7:30 p.m. game is expected to be raucous.
“We know it’s a huge game,” offensive lineman Cory Helms said. “We feel it around the campus and around the city and, trust me, it’s a big game for us, but you just have to try to prepare like it’s a normal game.”
Mississippi State’s loss to Ole Miss on Friday night and the injury to Bulldogs quarterback Nick Fitzgerald might make room for the Gamecocks to get to the Citrus Bowl, a possibility that would be greatly enhanced by a win over the Tigers.
South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp talked this week about carefully monitoring his team’s preparation for the game to make sure the players were ready Saturday night and not before. You know it’s a big deal when the coach is worried his players might get too excited before kickoff.