Monday morning was difficult for South Carolina football fans, especially those who work in cubicles adjacent to Clemson fans.
I will admit to sometimes being harsh on USC fans. This time, I truly feel sorry for them. The way this football season has unfolded in the state of South Carolina is cruel punishment to those who cheer the garnet and black.
I purposely refrained from also calling it "unusual" punishment because USC fans have been here before, time and again over the past 100 years, give or take a few. Just when they believe the tide has finally turned in their favor, it waylays them again with a wave of disappointment and heartbreak.
No fan base deserves what USC is enduring this week.
Saturday's loss was bad enough because it came against Auburn, which is not a great football team by any stretch of the imagination. Auburn's defense was deplorable until it met up with the ineptitude of the USC offense. Auburn's offense was equally as bad as USC's.
OK, so USC lost to an inferior opponent. That sometimes happens during the course of a 12-game regular season. USC fans understand that from years of experience.
But did the loss have to be against the same Auburn team that Clemson dismantled two weeks earlier? Did USC really have to struggle to gain 289 yards of total offense against the same Auburn defense that Clemson blitzed for more than 600 yards?
Talk about rubbing salt in a wound, adding insult to injury, kicking a team when it's down.
That is the way the season has gone for USC and Clemson. USC, the team with all the answers in the preseason, now has all the questions. Clemson, the team with all the questions in the preseason, now has all the answers.
It was not supposed to be this way. In the preseason, "next season" had finally arrived for USC. The Gamecocks were defending SEC East champions. They were expected to repeat and challenge for the SEC title. Heck, one publication picked USC to win the national championship.
A No. 12 preseason ranking was the best in school history and well-deserved. USC was fielding a fifth-year senior quarterback, a Heisman Trophy candidate at running back, an All-America receiver and a defensive lineman who was the No. 1 recruiting prospect in the country.
USC also had a Hall of Fame coach on the sideline, the man in the twilight of his career who was going to bring long-sought glory to Gamecock Nation. It took seven seasons, but Steve Spurrier finally had USC on the verge of greatness.
Meanwhile, Clemson did not receive a single vote in The Associated Press' preseason poll. The Tigers turned the keys to their offense over to a driver with a learner's permit. The defense lacked star quality.
Clemson also had a coach listed on just about every preseason "hot seat" list. Coming off Clemson's first losing season since 1998, Dabo Swinney's program was at a pivotal point.
My, how things change in five weeks. The world of South Carolina football has spun back to normal.
USC struggled in wins over East Carolina, Georgia, Navy and Vanderbilt before falling short against Auburn, a loss that dropped the Gamecocks to No. 18 in the nation. What once was viewed as an unstoppable offense is now simply ineffective.
Spurrier has gone from genius to dunce. Unimaginative play-calling. False starts. Burned timeouts. Clock mismanagement. It adds up to a team that looks poorly coached.
Meanwhile, Clemson has defeated three consecutive ranked opponents for the first time and climbed to No. 8 in the country. Sophomore quarterback Tajh Boyd has been magnificent in directing Clemson's offense. Dwayne Allen has emerged as one of the top tight ends in the country, and freshman wide receiver Sammy Watkins is a superstar in the making.
Swinney has gone from pauper to king. His offseason decision to hire a new offensive coordinator is making Swinney look smarter by the day. His postgame rants have brought national attention to his team and program. Mostly, his team looks superbly coached.
Understandably, it all galls USC and its fans. Can it get any worse? Probably not, which is why USC fans should look at it this way: Wait till next week.