CLEMSON - But first, a moment of reflection. Of realism. Of perspective.
As we close the 2014 opponent previews, let's look at the past two years.
Florida State, which finished No. 1 last year and No. 10 the year before, is 26-2 the past two years.
South Carolina, which finished No. 4 last year and No. 8 the year before, is 22-4 the past two years.
Clemson is 0-4 against those two teams the past two years. It hasn't been pretty - on the scoreboard vs. the Seminoles or in the trash talk vs. the Gamecocks.
Clemson is 22-0 against everybody else.
Clemson has only lost to two different programs the past two years.
You know who else has lost to two - and only two - programs the past two years? Florida State (who's only lost twice overall - to N.C. State and Florida, in 2012), Oregon (who can't handle Stanford lately) and Ohio State (Michigan State and, well ... you know.)
That's it. That's the list. That's elite company.
Alabama has three conquerors the past two years. (Alabama!) Same for Louisville, which joined the ACC today.
Four different foes have felled South Carolina: Georgia, Tennessee, LSU, Florida. Five each have taken down Stanford, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and LSU, the latter again including some team with whom you have some familiarity.
A few more stats to spit out: in the past two years, Clemson is 10-2 in road or neutral games. The Tigers are 3-4 against ranked teams (including 3-3 vs. the top ten), and they've racked up a run of 18 consecutive victories over unranked opponents by a double-digit margin, a streak second only to Alabama's 27.
Take it from an outsider's vantage point: the South Carolina streak hurts. A lot. And it can, will and should hurt even more if five becomes six.
But take a bow, Clemson football, for reaching quite the heights that 90 percent (if not more) of fan bases would love to reach.
Opponent preview No. 1: Georgia
Opponent preview No. 2: S.C. State
Opponent preview No. 3: Florida State
Opponent preview No. 4: North Carolina
Opponent preview No. 5: North Carolina State
Opponent preview No. 6: Louisville
Opponent preview No. 7: Boston College
Opponent preview No. 8: Syracuse
Opponent preview No. 9: Wake Forest
Opponent preview No. 10: Georgia Tech
Opponent preview No. 11: Georgia State
Game 12: No. 10 South Carolina at No. 22* Clemson, Nov. 29, time and TV TBD
South Carolina coach: Steve Spurrier (77-39, 10th season)
Returning starters: 14 (eight offense, six defense)
2013 record: 11-2, 6-2 SEC; 2nd SEC East
Scoring offense: 34.1 points per game (T-31st in FBS)
Scoring defense: 20.3 points allowed (12th)
Series: Clemson leads 65-42-4, including 16-10-1 in Clemson
Golden Nugget line: South Carolina by 3
Opposing beat writer to follow: @rwood_sc
Three things to know about South Carolina
1. Experience returns: You know the key players gone from South Carolina's roster: a time of transition both on offense (quarterback Connor Shaw, who never lost a home game) and defense (defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.) However, South Carolina counts 14 returning starters among its roster, tied for the most among Clemson opponents this fall (S.C. State, North Carolina.) That's eight on offense and six on defense, plus a kicker and punter to boot. Tailback Mike Davis, receivers Shaq Roland and Damiere Byrd, and four offensive linemen mean the Gamecocks expect its offense not to miss a beat; the show is now Dylan Thompson's, and of course, he was fantastic stepping in for Shaw in the 2012 Clemson game at Death Valley (310 passing yards, 3 TDs.)
2. Shoring up the defense: A few more words on life after Clowney: six of the top eight 2013 tacklers returner, led by linebacker Skai Moore and Kaiwan Lewis. Still, there are definite question marks on defense, since linemen like Jhaustin Thomas Jr., Darius English and Abu Lamin have good size but much to prove. Compared to Clemson's 98.5 tackles for loss returning on the roster, South Carolina has 43. And on the back end, cornerbacks Jimmy Legree and Vic Hampton were wildly effective on wide receivers, so whoever moves in (Brison Williams? Rico McWilliams? Somebody else?) has big shoes to fill.
3. Turnovers. Turnovers. Turnovers.: If the figure "62-0" isn't resounding through ever Tiger's head every hour of every day from Nov. 23 to Nov. 29, there's something wrong. During the five-game losing streak to South Carolina, the Gamecocks have scored 62 points off turnovers (way, way, way too many) and the Tigers have scored zero points off turnovers (way, way, way not enough.) Clemson has 15 turnovers the past five matchups; South Carolina has three. Chances are Clemson actually "won" more plays in the 2013 defeat than its host, but South Carolina created six turnovers (while not turning it over) and turned those into a 21-0 advantage. That won't get it done at any level.
Week before: Georgia State
Next week: ACC championship (?)
On the horizon: Bowl season
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