COLUMBIA - At some point, the streak has to end.
It's an inevitable truth, unavoidable. South Carolina, enjoying its golden years in football, has owned the state since 2009. Five straight wins against Clemson - all by double digits - have flipped the flow of a rivalry that hasn't historically tilted toward South Carolina's favor.
Now, the Gamecocks are approaching history. The most times they've ever beaten the Tigers in one decade are five, most recently in the 1960s. With four wins in four years, South Carolina is poised to set a new record.
There's also a Clemson streak to consider. The most consecutive wins in the rivalry's history is seven, back when the Tigers did it from 1934 through 1940. If South Carolina wins this November in Death Valley, it could return to Williams-Brice Stadium next season for a chance to win its seventh straight.
The goal is to keep the streak alive. To win one for the other thumb. Because all streaks come to an end, and the conclusion can come any time. Could it be this fall? Here's what to expect from Clemson.
Coach: Dabo Swinney (51-23, seventh season)
Returning starters: 12 (five offensive, seven defensive)
2013 record: 11-2, 7-1 ACC; second place ACC Atlantic
Scoring offense: 40.2 points per game (9th in the country)
Scoring defense: 22.2 points against per game (24th in the country)
Series: South Carolina trails 65-42-4
Last meeting: South Carolina beat Clemson 31-17 last season at Williams-Brice Stadium. The game was tied at 17 entering the fourth quarter, but the Gamecocks put it away with two touchdowns in the final 15 minutes. South Carolina forced six turnovers - without turning it over once - and scored 21 points off those turnovers. Half of those turnovers came from Tajh Boyd in the fourth quarter.
Three things to know about Clemson
1. Unproven quarterback: South Carolina and Clemson find themselves in similar quarterback situations this offseason. Both are replacing their greatest quarterback in program history. Both are doing it with longtime backups. But the difference between Dylan Thompson and Cole Stoudt is vast. Thompson has big-game experience. He'll enter the season with more wins as a starting quarterback at Memorial Stadium than Stoudt. Nobody in Columbia doubts their starting quarterback. Stoudt, who has never started a game, is mostly a wild card. He could do just about anything this season - including losing his job to Deshaun Watson in October - and nobody would really be surprised. Of course, if Stoudt plays well and keeps his job all the way until the rivalry game, he'll have 11 starts under his belt.
2. Defensive line edge: Dabo Swinney got a gift from above when defensive end Vic Beasley decided to return for his senior season instead of entering the NFL Draft. Beasley had Jadeveon Clowney-esque numbers last fall, leading the ACC with 13 sacks. He was second in the league with 23 tackles for loss. This season, he'll lead one of the best defensive lines in the nation. Clemson led college football with 123 tackles for loss last season, and 98.5 tackles for loss return to the roster. For the first time since the streak began, Clemson should have the better defensive line. Of course, the Tigers will face South Carolina's offensive line, potentially one of the best in the nation. Whoever wins that matchup could win the game.
3. Time of possession: Steve Spurrier knows exactly why his team has won five straight games against Clemson. In each, the recipe is the same. South Carolina's offense has been on the field for 186:38 during the streak, while Clemson's offense has been on the field for just 113:22. That's more than one game's difference, a wide margin when you're only looking at five games. And, it goes without saying, that's an awful lot of time for a Spurrier offense to be on the field. Time of possession isn't a sexy stat, but it's the most underrated one in the rivalry's recent history. How important is it? South Carolina has held the football for at least 34:43 in each of the past five games. The last time it lost to Clemson, USC had the ball for just 27:13. Since Spurrier became coach in 2005, the winner of the rivalry game has been the team to win time of possession.
Gamecocks schedule glimpse
Week before: South Alabama
Next week: SEC Championship Game (?)
On the horizon: Bowl season
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