On guts and guile, Connor Shaw is a worthy adversary in this matchup. He’s the winningest quarterback in South Carolina history, and his comeback effort at Missouri is already legend. But Tajh Boyd’s consistent excellence is the reason why Clemson rarely has many scares in the fourth quarter these days. The highest-rated passer in the country in November (78 percent completions, 12 TDs, 2 INTs), Boyd’s proven himself as an elite college football player.

Advantage: Clemson


South Carolina’s Mike Davis rested last week against Coastal Carolina. It hurt his chances of winning the SEC rushing title, but certainly helped heal some nagging injuries. Davis, who has dealt with bruised ribs and a bruised shoulder, should be back to his dominant self against Clemson. Remember, this is a running back averaging an SEC-best 111.2 rushing yards per game, and his 1,444 yards from scrimmage lead the conference — 130 more than Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans. Clemson running back Roderick McDowell is a good player, entering Saturday with 845 rushing yards. He’ll be the underdog in this matchup.

Advantage: South Carolina


Sammy Watkins alone is tough to beat in any wide receiver matchup, but Martavis Bryant’s recent emergence is what makes the Tigers’ options truly dangerous. Because Boyd can chuck it up to Bryant at a moment’s notice, that allows Watkins more one-on-one assignments to roam the field. Adam Humphries is a capable slot receiver, too. For USC, Bruce Ellington looks for another big game vs. Clemson.

Advantage: Clemson


South Carolina’s offensive line paved the way for Davis’ breakout season. The Gamecocks are stocked with veterans up front, guys who know what it feels like to beat Clemson on the road and at home. South Carolina has allowed 20 sacks in 11 games — a touch high, but nothing to really worry about. Compare that to Clemson, which has given up 27 sacks this season and struggled mightily against USC in the past.

Advantage: South Carolina


Perhaps the most lopsided mismatch on the field will be South Carolina’s defensive line against Clemson’s offensive line. The Gamecocks aren’t as dominant as they’ve been in the past, with just 19 sacks this season. Regardless, they can pressure the quarterback from the inside with defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles, or outside with end Jadeveon Clowney. Clemson’s Vic Beasley has had a terrific season with 10 sacks, but he’s just one man. USC has sacked Tajh Boyd 11 times in the past two seasons, and there’s plenty of reason to believe it can pressure Boyd again.

Advantage: South Carolina


For the most part, Clemson likes to operate with a nickel defense, leaving just two linebackers on the field in senior Spencer Shuey and junior Stephone Anthony. That tandem has been extraordinary has complementary pieces; Shuey’s the bull-headed tackler, Anthony’s the blitzing fiend. Those two are each over 100 tackles through 11 games and rarely miss a takedown. USC’s four rotational LBs are freshmen and sophomores.

Advantage: Clemson


South Carolina’s starting cornerbacks — senior Jimmy Legree and junior Victor Hampton — could play their final game inside Williams-Brice Stadium. They’ll have their hands full with Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins. But USC’s secondary has held its own against talented receivers this season, most notably holding Missouri’s Dorial Green-Beckham to one catch for 6 yards. For Clemson, Robert Smith gives the Tigers experience in the defensive backfield. For a secondary that was overmatched last season against South Carolina’s receiver, that experience will be valuable.

Advantage: South Carolina


Neither team has a particularly dangerous scoring threat as a returner, though Clemson’s Adam Humphries averages 10.7 yards a punt return. Tigers kicker Chandler Catanzaro is 66-for-81 in his field-goal career (12-13 in 2013), and punter Bradley Pinion has pinned 23 of 50 punts this year inside the 20-yard-line without a touchback. USC freshman Elliott Fry’s (14-17 FG) the Gamecocks’ lone bright spot on special teams.

Advantage: Clemson


The Tigers’ mental toughness was questioned after getting pounded by 37 points on their home field by Florida State. All Clemson did was score 206 points its next four games, continuing to dominate opponents. Turnovers and third-down production have crushed Clemson in previous South Carolina matchups, two areas in which the visitors are markedly improved. USC has been impenetrable at Williams-Brice Stadium the last few years. But all trends come to an end sometime.

Prediction: Clemson 28, South Carolina 27


There are reasons to believe Clemson can end its losing streak in this series. Look at the Tigers’ first 11 games. Clemson hasn’t just beaten its weaker ACC competition, it has annihilated opponents. Still, this is reality: Clemson hasn’t faced any comparable situation this season to what it will experience Saturday night, going on the road to face a top-10 team. Shoot, even Florida State was a home game. Then, consider South Carolina’s recent dominance in this series with mostly the same cast of characters, and the Gamecocks’ unquestioned edge in the trenches, and you come to one conclusion.

Prediction: South Carolina 27, Clemson 21