COLUMBIA — Steve Spurrier has no interest in undercutting the significance of South Carolina’s rivalry against Clemson. In his fan base, he knows a win means everything.
It’s just that Spurrier has done it before. Five times, in fact, including four straight. To call beating Clemson “stale” would be ignoring the pure joy every Gamecocks fan gets from the streak.
To say beating Clemson is more important than winning the SEC Championship would be plain wrong. At least for this team, this season. And especially for this coach.
Spurrier was asked Tuesday if he’d rather beat Clemson or appear in the SEC Championship Game next week in Atlanta. The Head Ball Coach said he didn’t have the “right answer” for that question, but his top goal is clear.
“If you ask me whether I’d win the SEC championship or beat Clemson, I’d rather win the SEC Championship if I had a choice,” Spurrier said. “… We’ve beaten Clemson before. We’re never won an SEC championship. If we had never beaten Clemson, I’d probably want to beat Clemson. If we could only have one, that’s the way I’d look at it.”
That’s not to say Spurrier doesn’t want both. He’d love to beat his rival again. And again. And again.
When No. 10 South Carolina hosts No. 6 Clemson for a 7 p.m. kickoff Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium, it will be arguably the biggest game in the rivalry’s history. Both teams are in the hunt for a BCS bowl bid. Never before have they met with both in the top 10.
Still, for South Carolina, it won’t be the only big game Saturday night. No. 5 Missouri will host No. 19 Texas A&M for a 7:45 p.m. kickoff on ESPN. The Gamecocks need the Aggies to win, or they’ll finish second in the SEC East.
Two weeks ago, USC was in a similar situation. Auburn and Georgia met for a game that directly affected South Carolina’s hopes of winning the SEC East. While USC hosted Florida, the big screen inside Williams-Brice Stadium showed the game on the Plains.
Fans — and players — looked up at the screen while simultaneously trying to focus on the game that was happening down at field level.
Beating Clemson may mean more than beating Florida, but senior guard Ronald Patrick admitted he’ll sneak a peek at how Missouri is doing against Texas A&M if the game is shown on the big screen.
“That’s going to be pretty hard (to avoid) if they show it on the jumbo,” Patrick said. “It’s big. It’s news. So if they put it up there, we’re going to see it.”
It’s only human nature to be aware of one’s surroundings. The hard part is not being influenced by them.
Whether Missouri wins or loses, Spurrier wants his team to keep its attention on Saturday night’s prize. South Carolina has a chance to beat Clemson for the fifth straight time. In the rivalry’s 110-game history, it’s never happened before.
Spurrier said that should be reason enough to focus on the task at hand, not the ultimate goal.
“First of all, Missouri is a very, very good team that is probably not going to lose the game,” Spurrier said. “A&M has a chance, everybody has a chance, but we have no control over that. Whether we get into the (SEC Championship) Game or not, we can’t worry about that right now. We’re worried about beating our in-state rival.
“A lot of our goals are on the line. It’s a huge game for us. This is the only one we’re really thinking about.”