CLEMSON - Clemson has gotten used to owning February over its rival. South Carolina has been happy to hang on to November.
Recruiting battles, football wars
How Clemson and USC have duked it out the past five years in team recruiting rankings and football games:
Rivals: Clemson No. 19, South Carolina No. 24
Scout: Clemson 23, South Carolina 34
247Sports: Clemson 28, South Carolina 30
ESPN: Clemson 19, South Carolina 22
Nov. 27 game: South Carolina 29, Clemson 7
Rivals: Clemson 8, South Carolina 18
Scout: South Carolina 11, Clemson 12
247Sports: Clemson 10, South Carolina 16
ESPN: Clemson 8, South Carolina 15
Nov. 26: South Carolina 34, Clemson 13
Rivals: Clemson 14, South Carolina 19
Scout: South Carolina 13, Clemson 17
247Sports: Clemson 15, South Carolina 17
ESPN: Clemson 10, South Carolina 16
Nov. 24: South Carolina 27, Clemson 17
Rivals: Clemson 14, South Carolina 16
Scout: Clemson 12, South Carolina 24
247Sports: Clemson 15, South Carolina 20
ESPN: Clemson 13, South Carolina 18
Nov. 30: South Carolina 31, Clemson 17
Rivals: Clemson 13, South Carolina 16
Scout: South Carolina 24, Clemson 28
247Sports: South Carolina 15, Clemson 18
ESPN: Clemson 12, South Carolina 19
Nov. 29, 2014: South Carolina at Clemson
For the first time in half a decade, the Tigers didn't downright defeat the Gamecocks in the final collection of post-National Signing Day team rankings compiled by the four major recruiting services.
Clemson did edge South Carolina per Rivals (Clemson ranked 13th, USC 16th) and dominated in ESPN's eyes (12 to 19), but the Gamecocks were rated higher by Scout (24 to 28) and in 247Sports' composite rankings (15 to 18), which combine its own measures with Rivals and Scout.
Clemson swept all four services in 2010 and 2013, while taking Rivals, 247Sports and ESPN nods in 2011 and 2012 (USC was favored by Scout those two years.)
South Carolina's recent reign on the football field in November is obvious. It's Gamecocks 5, Tigers 0 in regular season finales going back to 2009.
How has South Carolina relinquished the recruiting battles but claimed the football wars? It's not quite that simple.
Over the past four years, both schools have floated somewhere in the top 20 in the recruiting rankings, with occasional cameos in the top 10 (all by Clemson.) So the Tigers and Gamecocks have been some degree of good-but-not-great on the dotted line, without much separation.
"It's not like Clemson's in the top three every year and South Carolina's down around 25," 247Sports.com national recruiting director J.C. Shurburtt said. "There's not a huge amount of difference between the No. 12 class and the No. 15 class."
There's also the wrinkle of recruiting philosophies: Clemson and South Carolina don't compete for the same players as much as it might seem.
"Clemson did a good job this year. I mean, Deshaun Watson's a five-star quarterback, but he's not a guy that South Carolina ever would have recruited," Rivals.com southeast recruiting analyst Woody Wommack said. "Totally different kind of player, very different needs."
USC coach Steve Spurrier prefers to build a wall around his state, and landed four consecutive Mr. Football award winners from 2008-11 - Stephon Gilmore, Marcus Lattimore, Jadeveon Clowney and Shaq Roland. Clemson hasn't signed South Carolina's Mr. Football since wide receiver Roscoe Crosby in 2000.
"South Carolina hasn't hit the big out-of-state home run five-star. There's guys that are good, like (linebackers) Bryson Allen-Williams (this year) and Larenz Bryant in last year's class," Shurburtt said. "They can go and get a kid from out of state that's highly rated, but their superstars have come from within the state."
On Wednesday, both schools signed nine players from the state of South Carolina, but Clemson coach Dabo Swinney intends to grayshirt four of his in-state products - linebackers Jalen Williams, J.D. Davis and Judah Davis; and kicker Alex Spence.
Of Rivals.com's top 20 prospects from the state of South Carolina, nine are Gamecocks, three are Tigers and eight went elsewhere.
"I think they're realistic in who they target and how they spend their energy," Wommack said of USC. "South Carolina doesn't have the flash factor that Clemson has had over the past few years. Look at the highly rated guys Clemson has brought in - Sammy Watkins was a five-star, Tajh Boyd was ranked really high.
"But I do think that South Carolina does a better job of identifying talent and then more importantly developing it for their system, maybe taking guys that are a little bit off the radar."
Shurburtt pointed to less- heralded recruits like former Beaufort cornerback Jimmy Legree and current Houston Texans safety D.J. Swearinger, as underrated products. Wommack said offensive lineman Malik Young from this class might follow suit.
"It's a situation where South Carolina's bottom part of their classes has gotten more quality players," Shurburtt said. "That's where you have to compare the two. Clemson's gotten probably more superstars than South Carolina, but the Gamecocks, I guess, have been more solid and had more guys pan out."
The Tigers are 32-8 the past three years with wins over Auburn, Florida State, Virginia Tech, LSU, Georgia and Ohio State. Meanwhile, South Carolina has produced back-to-back-to-back 11-2 campaigns, finishing 2011, 2012 and 2013 in the top 10.
"When it comes down to the (Clemson) game, the advantage South Carolina has, is they've had the superior gameplan, and that has nothing to do with recruiting," Shurburtt said. "It seems like they do the same thing every single time they play Clemson: just kind of play keep-away and milk the clock, play good defense, try to pressure the quarterback and force him to make mistakes."
The annual rivalry game will be at Clemson next season (Nov. 29). Clemson turned the ball over six times in last fall's 31-17 defeat at Williams-Brice Stadium.
"I definitely expected Clemson to probably win that game this year. I think a lot of people did going into it," Wommack said. "But South Carolina keeps finding a way to get it done. That's how rivalries are. Sometimes you can't get over that hump.
"Both schools do a pretty good job recruiting. They both finished in the top 20 this year, so they're really not that far apart."