There is a difference between Clemson and South Carolina and it’s not just the mascots. There is a “We’re better than you.” mentality amongst the Clemson faithful and it’s well earned. Clemson leads the all time series 64-37-4, including a last minute field goal to clinch their most recent victory. That loss nailed the coffin shut on the Gamecock’s hopes for a bowl game and propelled the Tigers to a Peach Bowl bid.
Both teams joined the Atlantic Coast Conference in 1953. South Carolina later left the conference, but in the 17 years of being in the ACC the Gamecocks had only one conference title. Coach Paul Dietzel led the team to their one and only conference crown in 1969. In that same 17 year span, the Tigers claimed six titles. After South Carolina left to wander the college football landscape as an Independent, Clemson went on to win another seven. They even achieved a national title in 1981 under Coach Danny Ford. Their last ACC title came in 1991.
The bowl records for both programs further Clemson’s case, as they have thirty bowl appearances while winning fifteen of them, the most recent appearance being a loss to Auburn.
South Carolina has only been in thirteen bowls, winning four. The most recent appearance for the Gamecocks was a victory over Houston in the 2006 Liberty Bowl. Times are changing though. Since 2000, Clemson has won three bowl games. South Carolina has also won three. In that same time period Clemson still has a 6-2 record over USC, but the gap is closing.
What does this all mean? Historically speaking, Clemson has had more success on the field. Because of that, their fan-base and their players have it ingrained in their minds: they are better than the Gamecocks. The Gamecock faithful, on the other hand, has taken it all to heart. They have generally been more passive and willing to accept less. Lou Holtz went on a mission when he arrived to change that state of mind. Many believed he was on the right track after two winning seasons and back to back bowl wins over Ohio State. The next few years however, saw a decline.
In 2004, going 6-6 and becoming bowl eligible was looked upon as a moderate success. Now four years later, Gamecock fans are coming off what most of them believe is a disappointing 2007 season in which the team went an identical record of 6-6. Is this the sign Carolina fans have been waiting for? With almost four seasons in the books, Steve Spurrier has shown us all it is possible to win against the traditional powers, including the in-state rival. South Carolina fans are now wanting it to the point where they are beginning to believe beyond hope. When that translates to the players, it won’t be long before there is a power shift with a distinct Carolina feel.
With the 2008 season almost over, the Tigers find themselves in a precarious position where they must win out just to become bowl eligible. After a beat down in Atlanta from Alabama to start the season, the Tigers lost all credibility and fell out of the top 25 after being a pre-season #9. Halfway through the season, Coach Tommy Bowden submitted his resignation after a loss to Wake Forest. Interim coach Dabo Swinney has led the team to a 2-2 record since then and needs two more, including one to South Carolina, just to secure a bowl bid and increase his chance of becoming the permanent head coach.
The Gamecocks, on the other hand, are in unfamiliar territory. Despite the heartbreaking loss to Florida, the Gamecocks are looking to secure a New Years Day bowl for only the third time in school history. A win against arch-rival Clemson would almost certainly guarantee them a spot in the Outback Bowl with a possible rematch against Ohio State.
How will this all play out over the next few years? No one knows for sure, but a Carolina victory on November 29 would go a long way in determining if it is indeed South Carolina’s time to shine.