College Sports

Gamecocks have chance at history

COLUMBIA -- The streak boggles the mind, even in a series that's been relatively one-sided since its inception.

South Carolina beat Clemson 31-28 last year and with the renewal of the in-state rivalry headed for its 105th meeting Saturday, Gamecock players and fans have been weeding through the series history looking for the answer -- when was the last time USC beat Clemson in two straight years?

All of them had to look for a while.

"Somebody said it was 30 years ago," coach Steve Spurrier answered.

It was actually 37 -- not since a three-year streak from 1968-70.

"Was it 30?," Spurrier asked before he was corrected. "Thirty-seven years? Yeah, it would be helpful for us to just win a ballgame."

Clemson's owned the series since it began, losing the first matchup in 1896 before reeling off four straight wins. The Tigers come into Saturday with a 63-37-4 advantage in the series, meaning if the Gamecocks were to win again Saturday, they'd have to beat Clemson every year through 2032 just to tie the all-time mark.

The streak of futility has everyone scratching their heads. The closest the Gamecocks have come to winning two in a row since 1970 was when they tied in 1986 before winning in 1987.

"I didn't know it was that long," said linebacker Cody Wells. "Clemson apparently has got a lot more victories than us, (but) we're hoping to change that around here."

The answer why seems to be obvious -- Clemson has been a more consistent football program than USC, winning conference titles and a national championship since 1970 while USC has been up and down (mostly down). The Gamecocks have beaten the Tigers 10 times since then, but many of them were after four-year losing streaks, as the 2006 victory was.

There is no magic formula, said Tommy Suggs, USC's quarterback from 1968-70. It was just one of those circumstances.

"The 7-3 game, we just couldn't punch it in, but we still won," Suggs said. "In 1969, we were a good football team and we played within our capability. (In 1970), 38-32 up there, again, I threw three interceptions in the first half and three touchdowns in the second, and we still won.

"What's the secret? I don't know, really."

Suggs remains the last USC quarterback to beat Clemson twice in a row, and one of the all-stars in the series. Freshmen weren't eligible to play varsity football when he came through, but Suggs also led his freshman-team Gamecocks over the freshman-team Tigers in 1967, making him almost unparalleled in Gamecock history -- he never lost to Clemson.

But Suggs' Gamecocks were 4-6 in 1968, 7-4 (ACC champs) in 1969 and 4-6-1 in 1970. Clemson went 4-5-1, 4-6 and 3-8 during the same stretch.

Since then, Clemson has fielded some terrific teams while USC's only had moments. Todd Ellis, Suggs' partner in the play-by-play booth these days, said that's the main reason why the Gamecocks haven't been able to celebrate for two straight seasons.

"I think their program has been, for the most part, more stable than Carolina's, which I think breeds more consistency, which obviously breeds more winning," he said. "They've played on their history at Clemson and done a good job of building on that."

Ellis was a redshirt freshman quarterback during the 1986 tie and a winner during his sophomore season in 1987. He lost to the Tigers in 1988 and didn't play in 1989 after being injured, leaving him 1-1-1 during his career.

Since Ellis, Steve Taneyhill won twice against Clemson but also lost twice, all in non-consecutive years. Anthony Wright won in 1996, Phil Petty won in 2001 and Blake Mitchell did it last year.

Mitchell's got the chance to add his name beside Suggs' after rallying the Gamecocks to a win last year. But if history tells him anything, he's got something besides the Tigers' defense to prevent him from doing it.

"We have struggled at times but also had great years and great victories," Suggs said. "But history repeats itself. Things come around again. Maybe they'll be another quarterback here soon who can do what I did."