CLEMSON – There’s no way it could actually be that easy, right?
It looks that easy. Clemson has a significant talent advantage at football’s most important position (quarterback), and a reasonable talent advantage at just about every other position on the roster. The streak is finally broken, the monkey is off the back, and the point spread favors Clemson by a field goal.
But. But. But. It’s South Carolina. It’s Spurrier. It’s Sandstorm.
There’s no way it could actually be that easy, right?
It can’t be that easy to beat South Carolina, who proved for five straight years in this heated in-state rivalry it’s not your father’s Gamecocks and threw in an SEC Championship Game appearance, three 11-win seasons and three straight top-10 final rankings while they were at it, right?
It can’t be that easy to stroll into Williams-Brice Stadium, where the home team has won 53 of 70 times under the Head Ball Coach, including 22 consecutive from 2010-14, and expect an easy afternoon, right?
It can’t be that easy to smack around Spurrier, a man who for his lifetime has gone 133-25 at home (a dazzling 84.2 winning percentage), a man who made South Carolina a player in the big, bad SEC, a man who spends his offseason worrying more about his short irons than what the public will think if he dares lose again to Clemson, right?
It can’t be that easy for Artavis Scott (who, yes, David, I believe is still running) to turn simple jet sweeps into easy touchdowns against a Gamecocks defense which was more invisible than Ed Sheeran’s drummer? A Gamecocks defense which, led by Skai Moore and bolstered by junior college defensive ends, surely will be more present with the crowd noise in its favor, right?
It can’t be that easy to stop Pharoh Cooper from going all Artavis on the Tigers, right? To keep a guy who might be the Gamecocks’ leading passer or their leading receiver – or who knows, even the top rusher, punter and waterboy – from beating Clemson in multiple ways?
It can’t be that easy to lose basically the entire defensive front in the offseason, as Clemson did, and prepare to face South Carolina’s school-record offense despite many losses, as South Carolina did, and assume advantage Clemson, right?
It can’t be that easy to think South Carolina will take last season’s weirdness lightly, won’t create momentum from defeating Miami in the bowl game, and hasn’t spent every moment of this offseason building back toward the perch it enjoyed for a few years there before a what-was-that 2014 season?
Nah. Can’t be that easy. Won’t be that easy.
Less than four months ‘til we find out.
South Carolina coach: Steve Spurrier (84-45, 11th season)
Returning starters: 12 (4 offense, 8 defense)
2014 record: 7-6, 3-5 SEC
Scoring offense: 32.6 points per game (42nd in FBS)
Scoring defense: 30.4 points allowed (91st)
Series: Clemson leads 66-42-4, including 49-32-3 on road
Last meeting: Clemson 35, South Carolina 17: Nov. 29, 2014 in Clemson
Opposing beat writer to follow: David Caraviello, The Post and Courier (@dcaraviello)
1. Pharoh, Pharoh: 16.5 yards a catch, 10 yards a pass, 7.4 yards a run. Cooper was productive no matter how he was used within the offense last year, and managed to score 13 touchdowns in 13 games for what turned out to be the most prolific offense (yards-wise) in South Carolina history. The 5-foot-11, 208-pound Cooper was first-team all-SEC as a sophomore, and almost certainly will want to put on a show in late November for those NFL scouts who’ll probably be picking apart Cooper in the spring of 2016.
2. Green quarterbacks: Someone’s got to get the ball to Cooper, though. Whether it was the SEC’s rule against admitting players with previous academic troubles, or a general lack of interest toward returning to his native state, Everett Golson would have been a major upgrade at the position – particularly on the experience front. Connor Mitch has six career passes and two career completions, though he’s well-sized (6-3, 220.) Lorenzo Nunez and Michael Scarnecchia could also compete for the job – if not by day one, by week 12 – but without question, South Carolina’s got to find somebody with the type of leadership qualities oft displayed by Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson in the good ol’ days.
3. Stop somebody: It was just ... too ... simple for Scott, Wayne Gallman and that quarterback guy who had a torn ACL to rip apart the Gamecocks’ defense over the course of the final three quarters last Nov. 29. So simple, in fact, Whammy Ward’s job was in doubt before Jon Hoke was brought in to share defensive coordinator duties during the offseason. Thing is, Ward and Hoke can’t actually make plays themselves. Jadeveon Clowney, Brison Williams and D.J. Swearinger aren’t walking through that door. Skai Moore is, and he’s a heady tackler. Marquavius Lewis is, as of spring, and he’ll be counted upon to provide much-needed pass-rushing ability. Two guys named Gerald Dixon are, and they too have to improve the defensive line. Basically, the chess match between Ward-Hoke and Elliott-Scott will be one to watch.
Week before: Wake Forest
On the horizon: Bowl game