Sports

USC-Clemson most underrated rivalry?

USC Gamecocks vs. Clemson Tigers
USC Gamecocks vs. Clemson Tigers

Ivan Maisel's indoctrination into Palmetto State football came in 1981 during his days as a reporter at the Atlanta Constitution.

"It was my first job out of college, and they didn't want to give me anything they considered 'important,' so they gave me Clemson and South Carolina," said Maisel, who is now one of ESPN.com's college football experts.

"I was amazed when I covered the games in Columbia because I didn't know about the passion of the fans," Maisel said. "The punch line, of course, is Clemson never lost that year. Once they (his editors) realized they had a 21-year-old doofus covering a team that could be the national champion, I was quickly pushed aside."

That experience - among others compiled during 28 seasons of road trips to college football outposts both grand and obscure - are the backbone of Maisel's new book, "The Maisel Report: College Football's Most Underrated & Overrated."

Maisel's approach for the book was based on the generally accepted perceptions of the game, its players, coaches and venues. Having established those perceptions, he tried to figure out which reputations were most deserved or most overlooked.

There were some easy decisions, such as the Heisman voters' snub of Peyton Manning in 1997. Others required a little digging.

Clemson and USC make multiple appearances in the book at both ends of the spectrum, but perhaps the most surprising nod came on Maisel's list of most underrated stadiums.

"One of those easy decisions for me, one of those things that I just knew without research was Williams-Brice," said Maisel, who listed USC's home as the most-underrated venue. "For the book, when I was trying to figure out how to back that up, I looked at the attendance figures at the end of the Brad Scott years. It was amazing."

In 1998, the Scott era cratered with a 1-10 campaign. Yet the average attendance was 74,744.

The following year, Lou Holtz's first team was 0-11, but attendance increased to 78,273.

The Clemson-USC rivalry also earned a nod from Maisel. He named it the most underrated rivalry.

Maisel said he figures there will be a lot of howling nationally over that choice. However, being able to travel to all corners of the country during the course of his career has allowed him to see the sport and the passion it engenders from inside their local fiefdoms.

"That might be the distinction," he said. "(That rivalry) is an obvious example. I don't think a lot of people outside South Carolina have any idea of the vitriol that flows through the veins of South Carolina and Clemson fans."

Maisel devoted three pages to the rivalry and detailed the state's history, the memorable games and the unique stunts pulled off by the student bodies (Sigma Nu, anyone?).

"It's a wonderful history and there are great anecdotes," he said. "Schoolchildren there are probably taught those things in kindergarten."

Maisel also praised Clemson's "Howard's Rock" tradition, writing it was an original idea that many other schools have since copied.

There was a little vinegar tossed in with all the sugar and honey.

Maisel considered George Rogers' 1980 Heisman victory over Herschel Walker to be the fourth-most overrated honor in that trophy's history. Clemson was named the third-most overrated program.

Two mentions not made in the book were Maisel's thoughts on who were the most underrated players in each school's history.

"Off the top of my head, I loved Todd Ellis. I thought he was the quintessential college quarterback," Maisel said. "He just found ways to beat you.

"For Clemson, I'll say this: It might sound crazy, but I thought what Homer Jordan did in '81 certainly stands out," he said. "In the sense of the national presence from that championship team, the guys everyone remember were the Terry Kinards, the (William) Perrys and so on, but what Homer did, there's probably a good portion of the state that would elect him governor."

"The Maisel Report" is available on Amazon.com and will arrive in bookstores on Aug. 15.

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Where USC and Clemson rank

Where USC and Clemson, and the SEC and ACC, ranked on author Ivan Maisel's lists of overrated or underrated in a wide variety of college football categories in his book "The Maisel Report." --- OVERRATED

--- Programs

3. Clemson | "Clemson has always been a pair of brown shoes in a room of tuxedos. The ACC may have expanded to 12 teams and have a football championship, but basketball remains the First Sport of Tobacco Road." --- Conferences

2. ACC | "When Florida State and Miami vacated the top of the league, they created a power vacuum. The rest of the league has been a bunch of poseurs. Clemson has been a model and consistency and, in terms of winning even a division title, a model of disappointment." --- Rivalries

4. Clemson-Florida State | "Clemson and Florida State is a rivalry the way that 'Survivor' is a competition. They are both made-for-TV competitions. ... The rivalry now stands at Bobby Bowden 5, Tommy Bowden 4. The minute one of the Bowdens retires, this rivalry won't be rated enough to be overrated." --- Heisman Winners

4. George Rogers (1980) | "In most seasons, a tailback with George Rogers' resume not only runs to the Heisman, he runs away with it ... (but) the main reasons Herschel Walker didn't win was voters held a latent skepticism about freshmen." --- UNDERRATED

--- Conferences

1. SEC | "Saying the SEC is underrated is like saying that George Clooney is more handsome than most women think. ... (but) the secret to Southern football is that it means more. It means more to the players, the fans, the culture." --- Rivalries

1. Clemson-South Carolina | "Lord knows there are rivalries than have made more history than Clemson vs. South Carolina ... (but) if ever someone creates a machine to measure the passion generated by a rivalry, Clemson and South Carolina will make the machine tap dance."

--- Stadiums

1. Williams-Brice | "No matter the product on the field, the Gamecocks will always have their fans. There will come a day when Williams-Brice is no longer underrated. But it will come only when South Carolina performs as well as the people who come to watch it."

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