CLEMSON - So far, so cautiously optimistic on the most scrutinized knee in Clemson.
Before he completed the opening statement of his Tuesday press conference, Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney headed off questions at the pass regarding quarterback Deshaun Watson's practice activity.
Watson worked out Monday in a green, no-contact jersey, though it was a brief on-field session with the team. Practices Tuesday evening and Wednesday evening will be more telling as to Watson's potential availability in Saturday's showdown with Clemson.
"We'll put him in a normal jersey, and he'll practice at normal tempo with the rest of the guys and we'll evaluate him and see where he is," Swinney said.
Swinney wouldn't be blamed for playing coy with Watson's health, with practices closed and Watson shut off from media requests this week, to keep the Gamecocks guessing.
"It really is a day to day thing, and I'm not trying to have some conspiracy or anything like that," Swinney said. "We just don't know. It may be a game-time decision."
Watson wore a new brace Monday that Swinney said "he seemed pretty comfortable with."
"He is getting better each day, so we'll see how he does today with some good, competitive work," Swinney reported.
Watson wouldn't necessarily need to be at 100 percent, Swinney said, to return after spraining his LCL two weeks ago at Georgia Tech. Senior reserve Cole Stoudt has provided uneven performances in Watson's absences spread out since early October.
"As long as (Watson) can do the things that we need him to do to win the game, he's our starter," Swinney said. "We can't change our offense. He's got to be able to escape, and has to be able to run our system. He has to demonstrate those things throughout the week of practice."
Stoudt is taking snaps with the first-team offense in practice, for now.
"We're going to prepare Cole to be the starter," Swinney said, "and then we'll make the decision on Deshaun as we go through the week and see where he is at the end of the week."
As highly as Swinney holds this rivalry game, he doesn't lose sight of the big picture, which in his eyes is the overall progress of Clemson's football program despite South Carolina's five-game winning streak.
"I've had people come up to me and say, "You can go 1 11 as long as you beat South Carolina." But they'll be the first one trying to fire you if you can go (win) six straight against South Carolina, and go 1 11 - you're not going to be here very long," Swinney said.
"The reality is we've lost five in a row, and nobody's happy about it. But to sit here and say that this one game completely discounts everything that's been accomplished at Clemson the last six years is crazy. That's really a lack of respect for our players for what they've been able to do."
Among the recent accomplishments: bowl victories over Ohio State in the Orange Bowl and LSU in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, a 2011 ACC Championship, 26 straight wins over unranked teams and a senior class with 40 wins, tied for the most in program history.
"If it was easy to do what this group has done the last six years," Swinney said, "it would have been done a lot more the previous 20, 30 years."
Defensive end Corey Crawford (ankle), linebacker B.J. Goodson (hip) and backup safety T.J. Green (hamstring) are all listed as probable to play Saturday. All three players were nicked up at Georgia Tech and sat out this past weekend vs. Georgia State.
Cornerback Martin Jenkins also is listed as probable, though he has not finished a game healthy since the Georgia opener, dealing with a midfoot sprain.
Clemson moved up one spot to No. 21 in Tuesday night's College Football Playoff rankings, which is significant considering Louisville checked in at No. 22 after a win at Notre Dame.
This means if the Tigers beat South Carolina, Florida State makes the Playoff and Georgia Tech loses at Georgia, Clemson would be in good shape to land the ACC's automatic bid to the Orange Bowl based on being the highest-ranked available ACC team following conference championships.
Clemson is imploring fans to plan to arrive early if they are planning to attend Saturday's game at Memorial Stadium or tailgate in the city, as traffic expects to be wrought with heavy delays for the noon kickoff.