Tajh Boyd is the best quarterback Clemson has ever had, partly because fellow senior Connor Shaw is the best quarterback South Carolina has ever had.
But even icons feel the wrath.
If Shaw gets off to a sluggish start Saturday night against No. 6 Clemson in Columbia, some fans of the favored No. 10 Gamecocks will demand backup quarterback Dylan Thompson, star of South Carolina’s 2012 win at Death Valley.
The Clemson debate cuts through generations of orange memorabilia displayed on man cave walls.
The record-breaking Boyd?
Reliable Rodney Williams?
Gamecocks-killer Charlie Whitehurst?
National champion Homer Jordan?
NFL first-round pick Steve Fuller?
What about wily Woodrow Dantzler?
“If Tajh Boyd never takes another snap here, he’s done as much for this program and this university as anyone,” offensive coordinator Chad Morris said of the consummate ambassador/quarterback. “I will stand toe-to-toe with anybody on that.”
With a win Saturday night, Boyd probably seals his supreme status. Except for three or four Sassafras Mountain hermits, everyone in the Palmetto State knows the Gamecocks have won four straight games in the Braggin’ Rights series. Boyd started the last two of those games, and didn’t play well.
“I know that’s one thing that (Boyd) hasn’t done, and he knows that,” Morris said. “Make no mistake, that’s what he wants to do. But it comes down to us not making mistakes and executing. It comes down to two great quarterbacks going after each other.”
The case for Shaw
Shaw is 1-0 against Clemson as a starter, one of the reasons why ‘The Best Quarterback’ question is easier to answer at South Carolina. Almost robotically effective, Shaw is 25-5 (.833) as a starter — and that doesn’t include his game-winning relief appearance in the Gamecocks’ double-overtime victory at Missouri last month.
He is the winningest quarterback in school history.
He is a man of few words, but owns a “Beast Mode” T-shirt he donned immediately after the 2011 win over Clemson.
Shaw gets the edge over Todd Ellis, 24-16-3 (.593) from 1986-89. Ellis, the Gamecocks’ radio play-by-play voice, was a personable leader who had to face Clemson during the Danny Ford era.
The rest of the competition:
Garry Harper, 20-12-1 (.621) from 1978-80
Stephen Garcia, 20-14 (.588) from 2008-2011
Steve Taneyhill, 20-19-1 (.513) from 1992-95
But Shaw has taken most of the snaps throughout three of the best seven seasons in Gamecock history (2011, 2012 and 2013, with a tip of the cap to 1969, 1984, 1987 and 2010).
“He deserves to maybe be known as the best one here, just because of the won-loss record,” South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier said, “but obviously he plays with a good team around him and so forth.”
That makes it tougher for Boyd.
Williams, Whitehurst, Jordan, Fuller and Dantzler didn’t have to go up against Shaw (and Steve Spurrier). More pertinently, South Carolina had seven players on defense picked over the seven rounds of the last two NFL drafts, a school record.
Boyd is 31-7 as a Clemson starter.
Williams was 32-10-2 as a starter from 1985-88. That includes three Florida bowl wins and a 1-1-1 record against South Carolina (and Todd Ellis).
Whitehurst was 25-15 from 2002-2005, and famously 4-0 against South Carolina.
Jordan was 22-6-1 from 1979-82, and the quarterback on Clemson’s 1981 national championship team.
Fuller was 21-11-3 from 1975-78, a rebuilding phase capped by a Gator Bowl victory over Ohio State.
Boyd, asterisk or not
Boyd led Clemson to the 2011 ACC championship, its first since 1991. He has 10 wins against teams ranked in the Top 25, four against top-10 teams.
Mind-boggling: Boyd has an ACC-leading 102 career touchdown passes, more than twice as many as Clemson runner-up (Whitehurst, 49).
An 0-3 record as a starter within a five-game losing streak against the Gamecocks will attach itself to Boyd’s legacy like mustard-based sauce on Carolina barbecue.
But know that Williams doesn’t rank in the top 10 in any major Clemson career passing category.
South Carolina was a collective 23-24 with one bowl appearance during the Whitehurst years.
Jordan had to go against George Rogers, South Carolina’s Heisman Trophy winner. But the Gamecocks fired two head coaches during his tenure as a Clemson quarterback (Jim Carlen, Richard Bell).
Tajh Boyd, asterisk or not, has had to deal with a Gamecocks head ball coach likely to have a Williams-Brice Stadium statue erected in his honor, and with Connor Shaw.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff.