Clemson University

Rivalry record means little

Weslye Saunders, Kenny McKinley, Blake Mitchell and Freddie Brown have heard their coach's belittling words all week.
Weslye Saunders, Kenny McKinley, Blake Mitchell and Freddie Brown have heard their coach's belittling words all week.

The pop quiz in history caught a couple of South Carolina players off guard.

The question: When was the last time the Gamecocks beat Clemson two years in a row?

"Probably a while," center Web Brown said. "The '80s?"

Wrong.

"I have no idea. I haven't been here that long," senior safety Chris Hampton said before taking a guess.

"Nineteen ... I don't know."

At least Hampton had the right century.

It has been 37 years since USC won back-to-back games against its in-state rival. When the Gamecocks took their third in a row from Clemson in 1970, gas was 36 cents a gallon, USC color analyst Tommy Suggs was the Gamecocks' quarterback and Clemson coach Tommy Bowden was a 16-year-old high school student in Morgantown, W.Va.

Clemson is 25-10-1 against USC since 1970 and leads the overall series 63-37-4.

"I know that Clemson has dominated the rivalry," Hampton said. "So it really doesn't surprise me."

USC (6-5) would like to start chipping away at that deficit tonight when the No. 21 Tigers (8-3) visit Williams-Brice Stadium.

It should also come as no surprise that Bowden figures those statistics can do him and his team only harm.

His response: "The face of college football is changing."

The more the national landscape has changed, the more history seems to have repeated itself recently for these two programs.

USC has more pressing concerns than bragging rights, such as fixing a defense that has become softer than a jelly donut, snapping a four-game losing streak and qualifying for a bowl game.

Meanwhile, Clemson looks to rebound from a 20-17 loss to Boston College that has left the Tigers one conference stumble away from the ACC championship game in each of the contest's existing three years.

Yet there is no better way to squelch such disappointment than trumping the rival school, an ace Bowden has held up his sleeve for almost his entire nine-year tenure.

Bowden's 6-2 record against the Gamecocks gives him a higher winning percentage in the series than the program's three college Hall of Fame coaches (John Heisman, Jess Neely and Frank Howard) as well as the revered Danny Ford -- and has arguably contributed to his job retention along the way.

A victory today would give Bowden the same number of triumphs against USC as Ford mustered -- in three fewer seasons.

"It really doesn't mean anything," Bowden said. "With this profession being what it is, it's really what have you done for me lately, not what did you do four years ago or the accumulation of eight years."

"This thing has always been pretty intense regardless of who wins. These things go in cycles. My father (Florida State's Bobby Bowden) lost six to the University of Florida, and he's a pretty good coach."

USC's 31-28 triumph at Clemson last year evened the Palmetto duel between Bowden and Spurrier at one apiece.

Afterward, Spurrier said he hoped the Gamecocks could point to the game in a few years as the turning point for his program.

On his spring tour of the Gamecocks' booster clubs, Spurrier sold commemorative Clemson game balls to raise money for USC's facilities campaign.

But even the most ardent USC supporters doubt whether one game -- or even two -- will reverse the momentum in a lopsided rivalry.

"We all have to admit that Clemson's dominated the series, and I'm not sure that two in a row is going to stem that tide completely," said USC play-by-play announcer Todd Ellis, who was 1-1-1 against the Tigers as a Gamecocks quarterback. "But it goes a long way."

Spurrier is not worried about the historical significance of tonight's game.

"I've only been here a couple of years. Won one, lost one. I'd love to be 2-1. But we got to go earn it. They're not going to give it to us," Spurrier said. "We'll worry about playing the game. All that (other) stuff ... we've got to concern ourselves with covering some kickoffs and trying to tackle somebody and block somebody."

Although his father received his master's degree from USC, Clemson sophomore center Thomas Austin grew up detached from the rivalry's emotions.

Born in New York, Austin moved seven times because of his dad's military career before settling in Camden at age 8.

"South Carolina is always going to play us tough, regardless of how good or bad either one of us is," Austin said. "With them winning last year, a lot of guys on this team hadn't lost to them before, so it kind of gave that bitter taste in your mouth."

The question is whether that taste is akin to 37 years of aging.

When informed of the span between USC consecutive wins, Brown replied, "Let's do it again."

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