CLEMSON — Sammy Watkins gave one of his wrist bands to a little boy carrying a football and then tossed the other into a group of kids wearing orange. The Clemson fans flooding the field at Memorial Stadium on Saturday night wanted something else from the Tigers’ marquee wide receiver after a 62-48 victory over N.C. State.
When: 7 p.m. Saturday Where: Memorial Stadium, ClemsonTV: ESPNAssociated Press rankings: No. 12 Clemson, No. 13 USCTickets: Sold outLine: Clemson by 4POLLWho is going to win the big game? Go to post andcourier.com to vote.
“Beat South Carolina, Sammy!” one shouted.
“Another win next week, right?” someone said.
“Yes, sir,” Watkins nodded.
It’s finally here, Rivalry Week with stakes as high as for any game in a college football series hatched in 1896. Clemson (10-1) is No. 12 in the Associated Press national rankings going into Saturday night’s game at Death Valley and South Carolina (9-2) is No. 13.
Only the 1987 game in which No. 12 South Carolina defeated No. 8 Clemson, 20-7 in Columbia, had a higher combined ranking.
The Tigers, with a victory, project as a prime candidate for a prestigious Bowl Championship Series invitation, apparently vying for a trip to the Sugar Bowl or Fiesta Bowl.
Steve Spurrier is tied at 64 with Rex Enright for most victories as a South Carolina head coach. That next one might be extra sweet.
“All the talking, it will come to an end Saturday,” South Carolina free safety D.J. Swearinger said this weekend after a 24-7 victory over Wofford in Columbia.
The Gamecocks own a rare three-game winning streak in a series Clemson leads, 65-40-4. Hence, the itchiness among Tigers fans.
“I know the fans are excited,” Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd said. “It’s a night game; we haven’t had one of those in a long time.
“It’s going to be a fun game. There’s going to be a lot of energy and a lot of, I guess, hostility. We just have to be ready to compete and play.”
Please, no wagering.
But for those interested, Jeff Sagarin’s USA Today computer analysis, a respected tool used in the BCS standings formula, projects a dead-even clash (accounting for the standard 3-point home field advantage).
Computers, however, do not know star South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore suffered a season-ending knee injury two games ago against Tennessee.
Other Gamecocks injury issues: Jadeveon Clowney, one of college football’s best pass rushers, has a sore foot and has not practiced for four weeks and did not play against Wofford; quarterback Connor Shaw said he was “a little banged up” with a foot sprain. Shaw settled for mildly effective short passes and hasty runs against Wofford’s three-man pass rush.
Spurrier said Sunday he expected Clowney and Shaw to play but might not know for sure until later in the week.
For the first time in four years, Clemson enters the game without a top player nursing a significant injury (C.J. Spiller in 2009, Kyle Parker in 2010, Watkins in 2011).
Typical of Clemson-South Carolina games, perspectives are twisted over colors and geography.
This one means the most to the senior players.
Swearinger is from Greenwood.
“Especially for the guys who live in the Upstate, it’s a personal thing because we’re right down the road from Clemson,” he said.
Clemson center Dalton Freeman is from Pelion, 22 miles from the South Carolina campus.
“This senior class has done a lot of things,” Freman said, “but we’ve never beaten South Carolina.”
Reach Gene Sapakoff at 937-5593 or on Twitter @sapakoff.
Dana Polk of Charleston checks on Clemson gear inside of Palmetto Moon at the Citadel Mall on Sunday. Store employee Kady Krissie Sanson said sales of gear from the two schools has been flying off the shelves since Saturday.×
Clemson Tigers quarterback Tajh Boyd passes to a reciever during the team's walk through in preparation for the ACC Championship football game at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina, Friday, December 2, 2011. (Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/MCT)×
Sales of Clemson and USC gear have been brisk as the clock ticks down to the annual Tigers-Gamecocks football game.×