How the SEC Changed the South Carolina-Clemson Universe

A conference affiliation and better players have led to a fundamental shift in the South Carolina-Clemson rivalry, and more moments like this.
A conference affiliation and better players have led to a fundamental shift in the South Carolina-Clemson rivalry, and more moments like this.

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.)

11 thoughts on “How the SEC Changed the South Carolina-Clemson Universe

  1. Talk to me when you guys actually play for an SEC title. Until then, don’t even give me this SEC crap. You have one title, period, and it is in the ACC many, many years ago. Listen dude, you can to TIE Clemson if you manage to win for the next 24 years straight. By then, in the year 2037, my 16 month old daughter will be out of college and still talking about how much Carolina sucks. Congrats on your 4 year legacy douchebag.

  2. I would agree that Spurrier never comes to USC if they aren’t in the SEC, but Spurrier had a lot more to do with the improvement of USC than the SEC did. It was a gradual improvement after Spurrier’s arrival and the last three years have been good. Now if USC isn’t in the SEC, Spurrier probably doesn’t accomplish this task. This is USC’s 22nd year in the SEC and there was very little improvement, if any, prior to Spurrier’s arrival.

  3. This is an interesting read, but in the grand scheme of just about anything historically recorded… trends and events typically phase to one side or the other. As I might agree that the SEC has some really gifted coaches who are attracting top talents, and in turn bringing in lots of money to their programs, the pendulum will inevitably swing back to different directions. It’s inevitable. Think about politics, There was a time when Republicans ran the country, now Democrats have the voting power. But just like anything else the pendulum will swing back in a different direction.

    It might be years before the SEC or USC pendulum swings again, but eventually it will. But for the present, the record stands in favor of Clemson over Carolina. It’s highly doubtful, and probably impossible that USC will keep a winning series over Clemson throughout the future of college football. And as a Clemson fan what is more encouraging is that even if Carolina won every game for the rest of my lifetime, i will probably never see the Gamecocks move ahead of this great state rivalry game.

    Its not about us “throwing the series record in your face.” It’s about the pendulum movement of anything recorded throughout history.

    Go Tigers!

  4. I guess a struck a nerve or two with the actual truth. I’m sorry to tell you Tiger fans that we don’t worry about the series record. It’s unlikely that we will ever catch up. I don’t lose sleep at night fretting over games from before I was born, or from before my parents were born. A point of the post, which some folks are ignoring (I can understand why-the truth hurts) is that we are beating you like you used to beat us. We are in the league that puts football first. Win a championship? Sure, we’d like one or two. The fact is that winning championships in our league is extremely tough. There are teams with tons more tradition and historical success than us that haven’t won one in a long time. No one can deny the vast improvement of our program since we joined the SEC. We may get a championship and we may not. Calling me names won’t make the truth go away, however (thought you folks were “classy”-guess not). As for the criticism of naming Holz in the post, understand that there’s no way Spurrier comes here if Holtz had not come here first. Holtz advanced the progam. Sure, we fell off some in his last few years, but he elevated the program to heights not seen before his arrival. And finally, understand that improvement doesn’t always show up in the win/loss column. A much improved team can still lose a lot of games due to the fact that the competition is simply better. Our break through success during the past few years is the result of many years of gradual (sometimes uneven) improvement. And finally, this is a Gamecock blog for Gamecock fans. If Tiger fans want to comment, that’s fine (kind of strange in my opinion considering you have your own blogs and such, but fine). It’s a free country. Just don’t be a jerk about it.

  5. Well said. I think the increased hostility we see in those poor fans is telling. Case in point, Clemson Tom seemed noticeably more agitated in his commentary this week. Clearly they sense the shift of power. No one could blame the Clemson fan base for the well earned scars and pessimism heading into big games. Add an understanding that Williams-Brice is neither a desert nor a likely venue for this trend to change, you can feel their defeated spirit. They are staring at forged concrete and a healthy Connor Shaw. Here’s hoping Mrs. Clemson Tom stays with her mom Saturday night.

  6. I thought my comments were pretty calm and reserved, actually quite respectful? Anyway, I saw the article posted on a friends facebook wall so I read it. I like keeping up with what closet bloggers are saying about Clemson. (hostility? really?)

      1. Well, perusing the enemy blogosphere could be interpreted as a “hostile” act. At no point this week did I consider browsing Clemson message boards, let alone making a gentle “Boyd-like” statement there. (#6? Really?)

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