College Sports

For Carolina right now, a win's a win

South Carolina running back Mike Davis sulks on the bench after he fumbled on a fourth-quarter play that turned the ball over to Florida.
South Carolina running back Mike Davis sulks on the bench after he fumbled on a fourth-quarter play that turned the ball over to Florida.

COLUMBIA -- Yes, it's the annual grudge match between arch-rivals, and it's important South Carolina wins it to earn another year's worth of bragging rights.

Not as important as just winning, though.

"The way we've performed lately, our biggest concern is to get our guys to play at a very high level and play a little bit smarter," USC coach Steve Spurrier said Tuesday. "We'll worry about playing the game. All that (other) stuff ... you need to ask somebody else all those questions."

Spurrier nor anybody else needed a history lesson about Saturday's impending matchup with No. 21 Clemson, the 105th meeting between the two bitter rivals. Players Cody Wells, Andy Boyd and Chris Hampton plus their coach each spoke about how important winning a rivalry game can be.

But with the Gamecocks staggering in with a four-game losing streak and their bowl aspirations hanging by a thread, it doesn't matter who the opponent is Saturday. It just wound up being Clemson after USC lost a 6-1 start and a No. 6 national ranking to a month-long stretch of awful football.

"We haven't made a big deal out of it, but it is there," Hampton said. "We're just trying to win this game. We're not worried about the bowl game. We'll let it handle itself. We're just trying to play our best Saturday night."

The bowl situations have been repeated ad nauseum for the past two weeks, ever since USC (6-5) was blistered 51-31 by Florida and checked in for a long break from actual opponents. The Gamecocks spent their bye week preparing just for the Tigers (8-3) and realizing what's at stake.

USC could still go to a bowl game with a loss to Clemson, but will go to a bowl game with a win. Spurrier has never lost five straight games in his collegiate coaching career. USC has never had three straight seasons of seven or more wins, or three straight bowl trips.

And the Gamecocks have not beaten the Tigers in two consecutive seasons since 1969-70, the final two of a three-game winning stretch.

Important to beat Clemson, but much more important to win. Only then can Spurrier keep the hope for the program going and inject some confidence back in the locker room after four agonizing, frustrating defeats.

"Two weeks ago, we got thumped about like we have the last two games," Spurrier said. "So anyway, we're challenging our players to try to lay it on the line and play with a lot more effort and see if we can't be competitive Saturday night."

"I think, really, everybody's just ... we're tired of losing," said tight end Andy Boyd, about to take in his sixth USC-Clemson game. "We're not proud of it by any means. I think everybody's just really looking forward to trying to pull it back together like we were at the beginning of the year and try to put the team back on track."