Never, until now, had the Palmetto State’s two major college football teams achieved this much at the same time.
Yes, Clemson won the national championship in 1981. But South Carolina went 6-6 that year. Before 2011, the Gamecocks’ apex was a 10-2 record in 1984, when Clemson finished 7-4.
Then came the past two seasons. Clemson went 10-4 in 2011 and 11-2 last year. USC went 11-2 both seasons. Last season, their combined final rankings in the Associated Press poll — eighth for USC, 11th for Clemson — was the best ever.
Now, both will begin their 2013 seasons of great expectations ranked in the top 10. The USA Today coaches’ poll was released Thursday, and USC was No. 7, Clemson No. 8. It was a fitting acknowledgement of two teams who are a combined 43-10 over the past two seasons.
Where they stand when they meet Nov. 30 in Columbia remains to be seen. But both will enter challenging openers with lofty expectations — USC at home on Aug. 29 against unranked North Carolina, Clemson at home two days later against No. 5 Georgia.
USC’s No. 7 ranking is its highest ever in any preseason poll, surpassing last year’s No. 9 in both the coaches’ and AP polls. The Gamecocks’ No. 8 finish last year in the AP poll and No. 7 in the coaches’ poll were their highest final rankings ever. Clemson’s No. 8 preseason ranking by the coaches is its highest since 1988 (fourth). USC’s Steve Spurrier and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney both currently vote in the poll.
In 2011, USC finished ninth in the AP poll and eighth in the coaches’. Before 2011, USC had never finished in the top 10 in either poll. Now, the Gamecocks have done it in both major polls in back-to-back years, surpassing their previous best final ranking of No. 11 in the 1984 AP poll.
USC has finished ranked in the AP top 25 just eight times. In five of those years, Clemson was ranked. Though the sample size is small, last year’s combined ranking of 19 (No. 8 for USC, No. 11 for Clemson) surpassed 1958 and 1987 as the best year for both teams, poll-wise. In 1958 and 1987, Clemson finished No. 12, USC No. 15. Never have both teams finished in the top 10.
Though the AP poll is often cited, it doesn’t really matter. Of the two major polls, only the coaches’ poll helps determine the participants in the Bowl Championship Series title game. This is the 16th and final year of the BCS, before the College Football Playoff begins next season. The coaches’ poll counts for one-third of the formula that determines the BCS standings.
The Harris Interactive poll and an average of six computer rankings comprise each of the other thirds of the formula. The Harris poll does not release preseason rankings. Last year’s first poll was released Oct. 7.
The preseason AP poll will be released later this month, and if Clemson is also ranked No. 8 in that poll, it would mark the Tigers’ second-highest preseason ranking ever by the AP. They were ranked No. 4 in 1984 and 1988. The Tigers began last season No. 14 in both polls – the first time they were ranked in either preseason survey since 2008, when they were ninth in both. The Tigers have started the season ninth in the AP poll four times.
With Georgia and USC, Clemson bookends its season against tough opponents. Clemson’s seventh game also appears, at this point, to be a big one – at home Oct. 19 against fellow ACC Atlantic Division front-runner Florida State, which is No. 12 in the coaches’ poll. Clemson’s nine scheduled opponents besides Georgia, Florida State and USC received zero combined votes in the preseason coaches’ poll.
True to recent form, the SEC, which has won seven straight BCS titles, dominated the poll. Six squads are in the top 25, including five in the top 10 – and they’re the same top five who exited the 2012 season in the top 10 (No. 1 Alabama, No. 5 Georgia, No. 6 Texas A&M, No. 7 South Carolina and No. 10 Florida.)
As for the ACC, only Florida State joins Clemson. However, No. 9 Louisville is spending its first and final season in the American Athletic Conference before joining the ACC, and No. 11 Notre Dame begins playing five ACC opponents per year in 2014. The coaches’ preseason top ten is rounded out by No. 2 Ohio State, No. 3 Oregon and No. 4 Stanford.