Fans revel in USC-S.C. State matchup

All year long, S.C. State University graduate Rodney C. Jenkins roots for USC on fall Saturday afternoons.

The charged atmosphere of big-time college football at Williams-Brice Stadium and the hope the Gamecocks can beat some of the nation's best drives Jenkins on gameday in Columbia.

This weekend, it's all anxiety. And a different kind of hope.

"You know you're not supposed to win," Jenkins said of his undefeated Bulldogs, who clash with the 2-1 Gamecocks on Saturday for only the second time in history. "Yet, you wonder, 'Can we pull this off?'"

That's the question Jenkins and his pals - some of them USC fans and others S.C. State fans - will be tossing around before the game when they get together while the ribs, fish and onion sausage cook.

In a game designed to bring football-loving fans together, the Carolina-S.C. State matchup still has the ability to drive a wedge within households and relationships.

"It's a little bit like Clemson-Carolina," said 27-year-old Keisha Glover of Bluffton, a Winthrop University graduate. "They say you have to pick a side" even if you never attended either school.

Glover did. She is a USC fan.

Glover, who initially attended historically black Florida A&M University, at one time considered transferring to USC instead of Winthrop. Carolina, she said, "had a good vibe."

But, USC was a little too large a college for her, the Beaufort County prevention specialist said, hence her choice of Winthrop.

"My boyfriend is a die-hard Bulldog," Glover explained. "Don't get me wrong, I love S.C. State, too." Her experiences at Winthrop and at a historically black college gave her "the best of both worlds," she said.

"That's why I think it's so great the two schools are playing each other. I think it's cute."

When the two schools met initially in 2007, USC walked away with a 38-3 victory.

Jenkins, the 1973 S.C. State graduate who also is a former Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference referee and current S.C. State booster, said he and his wife, Patricia, and their daughters, Marcelite and Cicely, plan on getting together with friends from Orangeburg's Wilkinson High School and their families for a big tailgate party.

"We're going to have a good showing," Jenkins predicted. "It's going to be a difficult game for us to win, but if we can't, then let's have a respectable showing."

Jenkins, chief financial officer for First Steps, said the 2007 USC-State matchup was a great financial opportunity for the school in Orangeburg, and also a great opportunity for the Bulldogs to play in a Southeastern Conference venue.

On the field, Jenkins said if S.C. State plays good defense this year, and the offense executes properly, the Bulldogs, who are expected to win their conference, will be "in the game" in the fourth quarter.

Another house you'll find lovingly divided over the Gamecocks and Bulldogs is that of LaTasha Gandy-Benjamin.

On the one side of the couch is mom, LaTasha, a 1995 USC graduate and unabashed Gamecock fan; on the other is 10-year-old daughter, Taylor Ramsue, an equally proud Bulldog fan.

"The Gamecocks are gonna lose!" Taylor said flatly.

LaTasha Benjamin said she and Taylor, who both attended the first game two years ago, will be at Saturday's game in full school regalia.

"It was a good day," Benjamin said looking back to the 2007 game, "for anybody who loves good clean football. We really enjoyed the game."

The Benjamins had "a huge tailgate" with family and friends from both schools, and sat on the Carolina side of the stadium that year, marveling at the respect the crowd had for the S.C. State Marching Band.

"This year, we're going to be a lot more relaxed. We're going to get there early, hang out with everybody, listen to the radio, and reminisce with friends," said Gandy-Benjamin.

Jenkins wants to continue to see S.C. State play the state's bigger football programs.

"I always thought these Division I and subdivision matchups should have been played in earlier times. I think the opportunity Carolina and Clemson are giving to the smaller colleges in the state is great."