With the comet Ison streaking through our solar system, I thought it an appropriate time to write a little about the current universe that is South Carolina – Clemson* football.
In the last week or so I’ve heard a lot of talk from Clemson* fans about “restoring the universe.” This is obviously a reference to the historical win-loss record in the series and their belief that the last four years have been some sort of celestial aberration from the norm, i.e., the stars are out of alignment.
Well, I’ve got some news for them:
The universe is now fundamentally different than it was during the vast majority of the time these two teams squared off against each other in November. As much as Clemson* fans want to curl up next to the fire and take comfort in the series record, we all know that there’s a new reality, a reality that started in 1992 when South Carolina joined the Southeastern Conference.
At TRC we have never misrepresented the past or the truth. We fully acknowledge that we had a pretty average football program around here for a long, long time. It’s no secret that Clemson* emphasized winning at football more than we did, and the results showed up on the scoreboard. With that out of the way, let’s talk about the here and now, the current universe in which these teams operate.
When USC joined the SEC we weren’t ready to compete, not by a long shot. It was a slow, difficult process building up the football program. During this same period Clemson* was still basking in the glow of its glory days of the 1980s. Over the next decade or so nothing much changed on the surface. Beneath the surface, however, keen observers could see the transformation that was taking place. After several years of taking our lumps in the SEC, the overall strength and growth of the conference and all of its football prowess began to show in our product on the field.
Clemson* for a long time remained the more physical team in the series, with its traditional power running game and strength along both lines of scrimmage. Meanwhile, the Gamecocks were known as a team with good skill position guys but one that was lacking where it mattered the most – in the trenches. We could occasionally break through with a victory in the big game, but most years the result was a testament to the most basic of all football adages that games are won by running the ball on offense and by stopping the run on defense. More times than not, Clemson* did this to us and we could not do it to them.
The SEC affiliation has brought better players and coaches to South Carolina. This is largely a result of the power and money of the conference. There’s no way Lou Holtz or Steve Spurrier would have come to USC but for our membership in the greatest conference in college football. While our entry into the SEC was no quick fix for our football team, the gradual transformation of the program from a finesse team to a team emphasizing defense and ball control is obvious and profound. No more do we have to move offensive lineman and linebackers to the defensive line late in the season. The past few years we have been known as one of the national leaders along the defensive front, with players like Norwood, Ingram, Robertson, Matthews, Taylor, and Quarles (oh, and some guy named Clowney) shutting down the opposition.
While we gradually built up our team with recruiting and an emphasis on defense, the upstaters decided to place an emphasis on finesse and the new fangled “up tempo” offensive system sweeping the college football ranks. The power running game of the past has been replaced by the wide receiver screen.
Is Clemson* good at what they do? Without question. Are they capable of beating us tomorrow? Sure, I believe they are. Just like we had a chance and occasionally beat them before our membership in the SEC began to reveal itself, Clemson* can beat us tomorrow. If they do, we will most assuredly be disappointed and down in the dumps for a while.
But will a Clemson* victory be an indication that the order of the universe has been restored, that the stars are now back in alignment? No, not by a long shot.
The universe has shifted. We know it. They know it. If they try to convince you otherwise by throwing the series record in your face, just smile and say three letters:
*2012 ACC Atlantic Division Co-champions (even though they lost the regular season match-up against the other co-champions.)