Post and Courier
September 24, 2014

Sapakoff: Top 10 reasons Gamecocks and Clemson are in the top 10

Posted: 01/07/2014 06:00 p.m.
Updated: 01/08/2014 06:28 a.m.


By Gene Sapakoff

If things get much better for the South Carolina and Clemson football programs, one or both will appear in the four-team college football playoff set to debut next season, Steve Spurrier will annex metro Atlanta and Dabo Swinney will get a call from Jerry Jones.

Momentum says maybe.

Palmetto State history says enjoy the afterglow while it lasts.

The Gamecocks and Tigers finished together in the top 10 of the Associated Press final rankings for the first time.

USC's No. 4 ranking is its best ever. Clemson is ranked in the top 10 for the first time since 1990.

The Gamecocks have three wins over top 10 teams, having defeated No. 5 Missouri, No. 8 Clemson and No. 10 Central Florida.

The Tigers didn't lose to a team ranked lower than No. 4.

What a season.

The top 10 reasons both Palmetto State teams wound up in the top 10:

1. Quarterbacks

Fittingly, Tajh Boyd and Connor Shaw, the best quarterbacks ever to play at Clemson and South Carolina, respectively, went out with dazzling performances in their final games.

Boyd threw for five touchdowns and ran for another against Ohio State in the Orange Bowl.

Shaw completed 22 of 25 passes for three touchdowns, caught a TD pass and ran for another against Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl.

"A lot of guys can't hit that in warm-ups," Spurrier said of Shaw's passing stats.

2. Recruiting

South Carolina made a habit of plucking the best players from the state in a streak that started with Stephon Gilmore and included Alshon Jeffery, Marcus Lattimore and Jadeveon Clowney. Recruiting coordinator Steve Spurrier Jr. lately has effectively zeroed in on Atlanta and its suburbs.

Clemson's familiar footprint is South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and North Carolina with recruiting coordinator Jeff Scott scoring consistently. As for star power, Ohio State got a hard lesson on the difference between athletes and playmakers.

"I don't know all the receivers in the country," Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer said after Sammy Watkins racked up an Orange Bowl record 227 receiving yards, "but I can't imagine any better than that guy."

3. Assistant coaches

Clemson's Chad Morris and Brent Venables are the highest paid pair of coordinators in college football, and the creative salary structure model has worked splendidly.

Spurrier added game-changing toughness to his staff with quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus (fifth year) and offensive line coach Shawn Elliott (fourth year), both of whom spread influence beyond their assigned duties.

4. Non-conference wins

The nation's two best non-conference wins of the season?

South Carolina over No. 8 Clemson

South Carolina over No. 10 Central Florida

Clemson's season-opening, 38-35 "GameDay" victory over then-No. 5 (and healthy) Georgia stands as one of the most impressive non-conference wins of the year.

5. Pressure

Clemson led the nation in tackles for loss. Defensive end Vic Beasley had the last of his 13 sacks against Ohio State, and made four tackles for loss.

South Carolina in its three years with Clowney on scholarship had the luxury, like few other teams, of nagging passers with a four-man rush.

6. Stability

Spurrier just completed his ninth season at South Carolina. Dabo Swinney has been the head coach for six seasons at Clemson but came to the Tigers in 2003 as a wide receivers coach.

7. Resilience

Clemson didn't crumble after a humiliating 51-14 home loss to Florida State, and South Carolina bounced back from a stunning 23-21 loss at Tennessee. The Gamecocks also survived the distraction of Clowney Gate, the mega-star's odd decision to sit out the Kentucky game.

8. Just enough

South Carolina held on against inferior foes throughout the season, narrowly defeating Vanderbilt (35-25), Kentucky (35-28) and Florida (19-14).

Clemson survived so-so performances at N.C. State (26-14) and against Boston College (24-14).

9. Lowcountry clutch

On his way to the NFL, South Carolina junior wide receiver Bruce Ellington (Berkeley High School) caught two touchdown passes against Wisconsin, and threw a touchdown pass to Shaw.

As he did against Georgia, Clemson tight end Stanton Seckinger (Porter-Gaud) scored the game-winning touchdown against Ohio State.

"It looks like a little screen pass, and it all depends on the flow of the defense," Seckinger said. "Luckily, they did what we wanted them to and it ended up really good."

10. What a finish

These guys have this postseason thing down.

South Carolina won a third straight bowl game for the first time in school history.

Clemson has defeated a top 10 opponent in a bowl game two seasons in a row (LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, Ohio State in the Orange Bowl).

Fun in Florida last week while other prominent teams were losing bowl games allowed the Gamecocks and Tigers to make a final rankings push.



Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff.