By the end of Saturday night, the South Carolina Gamecocks will have played three Tiger teams this season -- Missouri, LSU, and Clemson. It is their hope, and the hope of thousands of fans, that the Gamecocks will go 2-1 against Tiger teams as the end of regular season wraps up.
Saturday night's game against the Clemson Tigers in Death Valley will bring a season of great expectations for the Gamecocks to a close. Those expectations were tempered by a tough stretch of SEC games that put them behind the Georgia Bulldogs and the Florida Gators in the race for the East title, and effectively ending their chances of playing for the SEC Championship at the end of the season.
Despite no trip to Atlanta this year to face the Alabama
Crimson Tide, the Gamecocks have always had this game to look forward to on the
schedule with the State Championship and a three-game winning streak against the Tigers on the line.
There's plenty at stake for both teams, but it's mostly pride for this Gamecock team since the last time they beat Clemson four years in a row was 1951 to 1954 when Rex Enright was the coach.
Speaking of Enright, coach Steve Spurrier could become the winningest coach in South Carolina history on Saturday with a win against Clemson. It's the record Enright has held since 1955. Just don't mention that to Spurrier. He's concentrating on Clemson's offense more than anything.
"Clemson, the offensive they have is by far the best we've played against this year," Spurrier. "The defense has been good when it needs to be. They've given up some yards here and there but, overall, offensively, they got all the positions covered. The receivers, tight ends, offensive line, running backs, and the quarterback has really been good. It will be a big challenge for us. "
The Tigers, however, are playing for much more than state pride. They'll be playing in hopes that a win over an SEC team will propel them just enough into a BCS bowl.
With Florida State likely to represent the ACC in the BCS Orange Bowl – provided they win the ACC Championship – Clemson could sneak into the BCS bowl picture as a second option for the conference.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has had plenty to say about the BCS, calling it "ridiculous" considering how well he says his team has played this year.
"I couldn't have said this at the beginning of the year, but where we're at right now, we can play with anybody," said Swinney. "I'd love to play Notre Dame. Lord have mercy, I'd love to play Notre Dame. It's not like we've been barely beating people. This team has improved, they've played with great effort, passion, togetherness. Right now they're at the point where they're as good as anybody out there."
Spurrier, despite his verbal jabs to Clemson all season, heaped praise on the Tigers, saying they could definitely deserve to play for that championship had they beaten Florida State.
"If they could have held on down there at Florida State that game, we'd be talking about these guys playing for the national championship if they won their conference championship and beat us," said Spurrier. "Tajh Boyd would be up for the Heisman Trophy. That's how close they've been to having one of those super, super years. One game away."
The Gamecocks are also hoping two have two of their impact players healthy and ready for Saturday's showdown.
Junior quarterback Connor Shaw and sophomore defensive end Jadeveon Clowney continue to battle nagging foot injuries.
Shaw has been kept limited in practice, but quarterbacks coach GA Mangus says he's a "tough kid."
"We'll see what the trainers have to say, but knowing Connor, I would imagine that he'll probably be ready to do something on Saturday," said Mangus.
Clowney was held out of the Wofford game last Saturday to give him enough time to rest his foot. The star defensive player was spotted trotting off the practice field earlier this week, telling reporters that he'd be 100 percent ready for Saturday.
With the end of the season finally here, the Gamecocks and the Tigers will look to pull out all the stops against each other.
Copyright 2012 WIS. All rights reserved.