COLUMBIA — Even before No. 6 Clemson and No. 10 South Carolina kicked off on the final Saturday night of the regular season, both top-10 squads understood their place in the race for a BCS bowl bid.
Although it wasn’t pretty in its 31-17 defeat laden with six turnovers, Clemson (10-2) sits pretty in the eyes of the Orange Bowl, due to its lofty ranking and the ACC’s leader, No. 2 Florida State, primed for a flight to Pasadena for the BCS National Championship.
In 14 out of 15 years in the BCS era — and every year of the plus-one era — the Orange Bowl has invited an ACC team to south Florida for New Year’s week. After FSU and Clemson, the next highest ACC team in the BCS Standings is No. 24 Duke, which will play the Seminoles next week in the league title game.
That’s the only game standing in the Seminoles’ way to the national title matchup. Which, according to Don Slesnick, senior member of the Orange Bowl committee in attendance at Williams-Brice Stadium, would bode well for the Tigers.
“Assuming that FSU goes to the national championship, then certainly Clemson stands in a position to benefit from that,” Slesnick said. “We’re not bound to stick with the ACC; we can go elsewhere to replace FSU. But our tradition has always been to honor our partnerships.”
While Clemson could be primed for its second Orange Bowl in three years, South Carolina (10-2) might have an opportunity to go somewhere it’s never gone.
It might be a long-shot, especially since No. 4 Auburn toppled top-ranked Alabama in the Iron Bowl Saturday, but the Sugar Bowl wouldn’t mind a crack at head coach Steve Spurrier and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
“We haven’t had South Carolina before,” Sugar Bowl treasurer Chuck Lapeyre said Saturday night. “The Carolina significance is they would really travel well. And not just that, but they have a great team. Having Clowney be there, and the players they have, I think it would be great.”
Slesnick added “obviously” star power matters in determining invitations. However, the allure of Heisman contenders or famous players like Clowney and Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd are outweighed by bowl-conference partnerships, final rankings, TV ratings and fan interest in traveling.
Both teams opened with vintage touchdown drives just to their own program’s liking.
South Carolina’s first possession: 17 plays, 80 yards, 8:13 off the clock. The longest touchdown drive the Gamecocks have produced this season in terms of total plays, capped by Connor Shaw’s 3-yard score.
Clemson’s second possession: 4 plays, 75 yards, 1:38 off the clock. Sammy Watkins had a juking 57-yard catch-and-run, setting up Boyd’s 8-yard run.
The Tigers elected to receive, taking the first seven snaps of the game, and ended the first half on a 10-play drive resulting in Chandler Catanzaro’s 38-yard field goal at the horn.
Sandwiched between the half-opening and half-ending drives, South Carolina ran 45 of 55 snaps.
In fact, after his 8-yard scoring run, Boyd himself did not take the field for the next 20 minutes of real time. Clemson only got one first down, and a total of 21 yards, on its next two possessions.
Freak is back
Recognized in Senior Day festivities in what was likely his last home game, Clowney got his first sack since Sept. 14 and third of the year. Boyd scrambled right into Clowney’s grasp when Brandon Thomas couldn’t grab ahold of No. 7.
Hot Rod heats up
Running back was a major question mark for Clemson entering the 2013 season, after losing Andre Ellington to graduation.
A three-year reserve, Roderick McDowell has been a workhorse for the Tigers with injuries to all his backups. With 14 carries for 111 yards and a touchdown Saturday, McDowell has 956 yards on the ground with a bowl game to go.
McDowell, a fifth-year senior who was born with a club foot, became Clemson’s first 100-yard rusher against the Gamecocks since 2007, when James Davis had 122 yards in a 23-21 victory.
If McDowell can garner 44 yards in the Tigers’ bowl game, this would be the third straight year (all with Boyd at quarterback and Chad Morris at offensive coordinator) when Clemson produced a 1,000-yard rusher. Ellington had 1,178 and 1,081 yards the previous two seasons.
Gamecocks fans weren’t booing, they were cheering for Berkeley High School graduate Bruce Ellington.
The junior wide receiver had his third straight good game in the series: Ellington set up Elliott Fry’s 21-yard field goal in the second quarter with a 29-yard catch, and led the Gamecocks with four catches for 51 yards.
Ellington scored on a 49-yard pass play in the 2011 game (three catches for 71 yards) and had a career-best seven catches with two touchdowns in the 2012 win at Death Valley.
On the line
Having juggled its starting offensive line for much of the season, Clemson rolled out David Beasley at left guard and Isaiah Battle at right tackle.
D.J. Reader, also a member of Clemson’s baseball team, got the start at defensive tackle.
Country music star and Charleston native Darius Rucker sang the national anthem before the game.
Rucker, who attended South Carolina in the mid-1980s, is a graduate of Middleton High School.