Dubious distinction

Cullen Harper was the last Clemson quarterback to defeat rival South Carolina, which has won five straight in the series.

He would rather be known as Dr. Cullen Harper than The Last Clemson Quarterback to Beat South Carolina.

Ideally, one title will vanish before the other is permanently bestowed.

"It's funny. When I was at Clemson, we had the upper hand," said Harper, a Charleston resident and MUSC dental school candidate. "We dominated South Carolina. I was there for five years and we only lost to them once. It just shows you how far both programs have come. But it is surprising that South Carolina has won, what? Four in a row?"


"Five in a row?" said Harper, 28. "Definitely surprising. But they have a good program. It isn't like Clemson is getting beat by bad teams."

Forgive the football record-keeping error. Harper since going 2-0 against the Gamecocks as a starter has been juggling left-brain, right-brain academic work. But make no mistake, this is a multi-threat quarterback, not merely a science guy fascinated by evolving root canal technology.

Harper has spent the last year padding undergraduate science credits at the College of Charleston. He has an MBA from Clemson, an edge he hopes will stick out in applications sent to dental schools last month.

"At the end of the day, owning your own dentistry practice is just like any other small business," Harper said. "You can be a great dentist, but if you don't have any business acumen, you're really going to struggle. Hopefully, I'll be able to really put it altogether and flourish in this career."

Harper already has shown a knack for making adjustments on the run.

Clemson finished 9-4 in 2007, including a 23-21 victory over South Carolina. Mark Buchholz kicked a game-winning, 35-yard field goal as time expired at Williams-Brice Stadium.

"That was one of my favorite games," said Harper, who played through a shoulder injury suffered the week before in a bitter 20-17 home loss to Matt Ryan and Boston College.

"My shoulder felt like it was about to fall off," he said. "It did not feel good at all. But I wasn't nervous as the game was coming down to the wire. The coaches called some great plays there at the end and it was just a magical night."

The 2008 game against South Carolina was played on a cold, rainy afternoon at Death Valley. Dabo Swinney had taken over as head coach for Tommy Bowden five games earlier. Offensive coordinator Rob Spence was also fired in the purge. Clemson was a one-point favorite.

But the Tigers rolled, 31-14. James Davis scored three touchdowns and Harper and Jacoby Ford connected on a trick play dubbed the "Cock-a-doodle-doo."

"We had heard the whole week that South Carolina didn't respect our passing game at all, that they were going to come up to the line and jam our wide receivers," Harper said. "But we came out and jumped on them quickly and basically ran the ball in the second half."

It was the last time Steve Spurrier shook hands with a Clemson quarterback as the losing head coach.

"Best of luck," he said to Harper.

True, the Gamecocks of 2007 (6-6) and 2008 (7-6) were not the top 10, bowl-winning model of consistency now on display in Columbia.

But Harper sure wishes he could have had a few snaps in the system run by current Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris.

"That would have been a lot of fun," Harper said. "It's a fun offense to watch. Not just the plays they draw up, but all the players they have brought in."

Harper will watch in Athens on Aug. 30 as Clemson opens at Georgia. He will attend the game with his father Jeff, a starting lineman who blocked for Herschel Walker as Georgia won the 1980 national championship.

The long-range plan calls for a dental practice in Charleston.

By then, if Cullen Harper is still The Last Clemson Quarterback to Beat South Carolina, he should put it on his business cards.

Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff.