CLEMSON — Fair or not, Clemson knows much of its season, which has had many successes to date, will be defined by what happens tonight against South Carolina.
The Tigers know there’s more at stake than year-long bragging rights. A possible at-large BCS bowl berth is on the line, and there is unfavorable history to be written with a fourth straight loss to the Gamecocks.
The No. 12 Tigers (10-1) have not lost four consecutive games to the No. 13 Gamecocks (9-2) since 1951-54.
“We don’t want that to be our legacy,” Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd said.
And it’s not just that Clemson has lost to USC, but how the Tigers have lost. They’ve been manhandled at the line of scrimmage in three straight meetings, combining for a total of 179 rushing yards in the three-game losing streak.
Clemson center and Pelion native Dalton Freeman does not want to be part of the first Clemson senior class in 58 years to go winless against the Gamecocks.
“It’s been awful going home these past three years so I’m definitely looking to change that,” Freeman said. “They beat us and there’s no way around it. They physically beat us these past three years and that’s how I’ve challenged our guys because we control a lot of that.”
Beyond pride and bragging rights, Clemson has to win to have a shot at landing a Sugar Bowl bid, a prospect made more difficult with Oregon and Kansas State’s losses last weekend, which produced more at-large candidates.
Clemson has dropped from the Sugar Bowl to the Chick-fil-A Bowl in the latest projections by CBSSports.com and ESPN’s Brad Edwards. ESPN’s Mark Schlabach still has Clemson playing in the Sugar Bowl if the Tigers beat USC.
A loss tonight will tarnish an otherwise successful season for Clemson and be another blow to the ACC.
The Tigers have won 10 games in consecutive years for the first time since 1987-90, and have claimed a share of the ACC Atlantic Division title for the third time in four years. But a loss to South Carolina will offer more ammunition to those who view the ACC as a weak conference.
“We’d be incredibly disappointed if we lost this game, you’re dang right,” coach Clemson Dabo Swinney said. “You live with it all year. Everybody lives with it, coaches, players and fans.
“But if we lost all those games and we were 0-11 and we won this game, it would be a great year? Nobody is happy unless you win them all. That’s our objective.”
Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables is new to the rivalry but has already been introduced to its fervor.
“They’ve had their way with us,” Venables said, “and it’s made everyone pretty mad around here.”
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