Sunday, August 26, 2007

GAMECOCKS 2007: vs. CLEMSON


For Clemson fans who might wonder when C&F will stop using that picture to represent them, the answer is simple: Never.

The reason is that the Tigers sorely test one of C&F's tenets of rivalries, and often force him to break it: Always respect the other guy. Even when he was an Auburn fan, C&F respected Alabama's tradition. Even as a South Carolina fan, he respects that Mark Richt has done an incredible job coaching the spelling-challenged Dawgs. And even as he despises the razor-thin, last-gasp victories Phil Fulmer's teams always seem to eke out against the Gamecocks, he respects Fulmer's ability to consume nine boxes of Twinkies a day.


Did somebody say "Twinkies"?

But Clemson fans find a way to nullify it -- mostly because they refuse to acknowledge that the 1980s are over, Danny Ford is no longer buying players and the rest of the country does not see the Tigers as a national power -- as fans do -- and instead sees them as a very good ACC team, nothing more.

Clemson's last league title was in 1991. It's last (and only) national title was a decade before that.

None of that is to say that South Carolina is any better, or indeed even as good -- it has won the annual showdown with the Upstaters only twice between Holtz and Spurrier. And the Holtz regime produced the 63-17 nightmare in 2003.

But instead of being content to be considered as the best team in their state, the Tigers insist on being seen as one of the nation's premier programs. Sorry, it ain't so.

(Yes, C&F realizes that he's wading right back into the fray after being beaten down by the Georgia faithful. But in regards to Clemson, to paraphrase Goldwater, moderation is no virtue, and extremism no vice.)

OFFENSE

O-line. This must be one of several things that keeps OC Rob Spence up at night. Four starters are gone. Line coach Brad Scott sounds relatively confident, but South Carolina fans well know that confidence on Scott's part is not a reason for the opposition to worry. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

Quarterback. Will SAVIOR OF THE PROGRAM Willy Korn get to play? Maybe. But probably only as a backup. That leaves the fate of the Tigers, at the start of the season anyway, in the hands of junior Cullen Harper. Harper was 14-of-20 for 155 yards and 2 TDs in limited action last season. But Clemson could be in a full-blown QB controversy by this point of the season, and Baby Bowden's job being on the line would only exacerbate the problem. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

Wide receivers. Tyler Grisham returns after a 2006 campaign that saw him get 25 receptions, 264 yards and 3 scores. Aaron Kelly, though not technically a "returning starter" by TSN's definition, had more catches (30) and yards (355). No one else on the depth chart has more than 15 catches. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

Running backs. If it weren't for McFadden and Jones in Arkansas, the DavisSpiller monster would be the best returning RB tandem in the country. Read TSN and weep.

Spence wants both players on the field at the same time and for Spiller, the team's most explosive threat, to get more touches.

Greaaaaaaaaat. Combined, the duo ran for well over 2,000 yards and scored 27 TDs last year. ADVANTAGE: CLEMSON

DEFENSE

Defensive line. Gaines Adams leaves, taking his 17.5 TFL and 12.5 sacks with him. Phillip Merling and Dorell Scott return, having combined for 14 TFL and 6 sacks last year. With 4 sacks, Ricky Sapp is solid. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

Linebackers. Two-thirds of the corps are returning starters, including Nick Watkins, last team's lead tackler with 116 stops, seven for loss and a sack. Antonio Clay (95 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks) is another key cog in the defense. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

Secondary. Another solid unit for the Tigers. FS Chris Clemons had 102 tackles and broke up eight passes. In all, the returners are responsible for 6 INTs. Overall, not much of a drop-off for a unit that allowed 177.7 yards a game last year. ADVANTAGE: CLEMSON

SPECIAL TEAMS

Alas, Jad Dean has moved on.


No more of this. Sniff sniff.

The kickers are untested. But Ford is likely to be the returner again, at least on kickoffs, where he averaged 32.8 yards. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

COACHING

They might be 1-1 against each other since Head Ball Coach came to Carolina, but there's really no comparison between Baby Bowden and Steve Spurrier. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

RESULT

Davis and Spiller might be the only consistent part of the offense, while the defensive unit is solid. But even if they were stocked on both sides and the Gamecocks were starting 22 true freshman, there is only one way C&F can call this game. LIKELY WIN

WHERE SOUTH CAROLINA WOULD BE

If everything pans out as expected, they finish the season 9-3 or 8-4, a tangible sign of progress over 2006 but almost certainly not good enough to win the SEC East. A Capitol One Bowl invite might be an outside possibility, but the best chance is likely a return to the Outback Bowl, and possibly another rematch against the Buckeyes. The floor is likely the Peach Bowl, which would also be fine with this metro ATL-based fan.

THE REST OF THEIR SEASON

Baby Bowden will be hard pressed to continue his streak of eight-win seasons. Tough matches loom in Florida State, at Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Boston College. La-Monroe, Furman, at N.C. State, Central Michigan and at Duke are wins. The swing games are at Maryland and Wake Forest. Give them 7-5, with 8-4 not out of the question. Even with Bowden, a 6-6 season would almost require effort. The hot seat index on him will be tremendous.

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