Steve Spurrier doesn’t have to choose, but if he did, he’d take a title.
“If you ask me whether I’d win the SEC Championship or beat Clemson, I’d rather win the SEC Championship,” South Carolina’s coach said Tuesday. “We’ve beaten Clemson before, we’ve never won an SEC championship. If we had never beaten Clemson, I’d probably want to beat Clemson. If we could only have one, that’s the way I’d look at it.”
The hypothetical question was this: Would you rather have Texas A&M beat Missouri on Saturday night, an outcome that would send the Gamecocks to the SEC championship game, or would you rather notch another win over your in-state rival?
Spurrier’s answer illustrated the new reality in the Palmetto State’s long and heated football rivalry. South Carolina has beaten Clemson four times in a row, creating such a backlog of victories that it could reasonably be able to trade one for a shot at a title.
“First of all, Missouri is a very, very good team that is probably not going to lose the game. A&M has a chance, everybody has a chance, but we have no control over that,” Spurrier said. “Whether we get into the game or not, we can’t worry about that right now. We’re worried about beating our in-state rival. A lot of our goals are on the line. It’s a huge game for us. This is the only one we’re really thinking about.”
It’s the only one many people in the state think about all year. While the No. 10 Gamecocks trail the overall series 65-41-4, they have turned the tables the past four seasons, beating the No. 6 Tigers by an average score of 31-13.5. A victory Saturday would give the Gamecocks an unprecedented five-game winning streak against Clemson. (South Carolina has won four in a row once before, from 1951-1954.)
“We haven’t talked about (the streak) that much at all,” Spurrier said. “Our guys know what it is. If we’re going to have a good game we have to go play our assignments, play with tremendous effort, things like that. That’s generally what we talk about. They know what’s happened, they know the history of the series. We’re still way behind. But we’ve had a good run, we know that. We’ll hopefully try to play like we’ve been playing the last four.”
Saturday’s meeting, the first in which both teams are ranked in the nation’s top 10, will be the sixth time South Carolina and Clemson have met as ranked opponents. The Gamecocks won four of the five previous ranked matchups.
Another win would send a second straight senior class out having never lost to the Tigers.
“That would mean the world,” senior cornerback Jimmy Legree said.
“For me, the motivating factor is this is my last home game,” senior offensive lineman Ronald Patrick said. “I really couldn’t picture finishing my last game any better. It’s going to be an exciting, fun night.”
Even for the Gamecocks’ youngsters, an unblemished record against Clemson is cherished.
“I never lost to Clemson,” sophomore running back Brandon Wilds said, “so I don’t really plan on losing to Clemson.”
FOUR IN A ROW
The Gamecocks have won the past four games in the series, matching the school record for consecutive wins over the Tigers. The only other time USC won four straight against Clemson was from 1951-54 (20-0 in ’51, 6-0 in ’52, 14-6 in ’53 and 13-8 in ’54). A look at the current streak:
2009: USC 34, Clemson 17
Stephon Gilmore runs from Wildcat to get USC rolling.
2010: USC 29, Clemson 7
Antonio Allen’s pick six sends Kyle Parker to bench.
2011: USC 34, Clemson 13
Connor Shaw and Kenny Miles run wild as backups.
2012: USC 27, Clemson 17
Jadeveon Clowney has 4.5 sacks against Tajh Boyd.