Head coach Dabo Swinney‘s resurgent Clemson Tigers have been installed as a touchdown favorite over Shane Beamer‘s South Carolina Gamecocks ahead of this Saturday’s annual Palmetto Bowl rivalry game. However, expect that line to fluctuate the closer we get to kickoff as money starts pouring in on one side or the other.
(Personally, I’d take the Gamecocks and the points).
One thing is clear, though. After a brutal stretch for South Carolina fans, this rivalry – one of the oldest in American football – is starting to feel competitive again.
Make no mistake: Both teams have underperformed this season. But both have also won three straight, and could do a lot to sooth disgruntled fans if they beat their rivals and win a bowl game to close out the year. Clemson (7-4, 4-4 ACC) is already bowl eligible – but the Tigers will miss their conference championship game for only the second time in nine years. Clemson is also out of College Football Playoff (CFP) contention for the third season in a row after appearing in six straight playoffs from 2015-2020.
Tiger fans spoiled with success simply can’t comprehend the possibility of five losses in a season after losing five total games from 2015-2019 (a stretch that included two national championships).
South Carolina (5-6, 3-5 SEC) also took a step back this season – and likewise has its back against the wall this weekend. The Gamecocks must defeat their arch-rivals if they hope to earn a third consecutive trip to a bowl game. Oh, and they probably need to prevail in that bowl, too, if frustrated fans are to ease up on the Beamer bashing.
The first phase of that mission won’t be easy. Clemson flat out owns this series, enjoying a 72-43-4 (.626) edge over South Carolina since the first game was played in 1896. The Tigers won seven games in a row from 2014-2021 – tying the series record for consecutive wins – but were narrowly upset by the Gamecocks last year at Death Valley in Clemson, S.C.
That upset victory broke the Tigers’ 40-game home winning streak – the longest active streak in all of college football at the time.
Clemson entered that game as a two-touchdown favorite, incidentally.
The Clemson-South Carolina game was the longest continually played rivalry in the south – and the second-longest continually played rivalry in the nation – prior to it being cancelled in 2020 when the Southeastern Conference (SEC) refused to play non-conference games during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The line for last year’s game opened with the Tigers as 16-point favorites, but it dipped to 13.5 points before settling at 14 points prior to kickoff. Obviously, we all know what happened last year: Gamecock quarterback Spencer Rattler completed 25 of 39 passes for 360 yards and a pair of scoring strikes to lead his team to a shocking upset in Death Valley.
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The win was South Carolina’s first over Clemson since 2013 – when it concluded a school record five-game winning streak in this series under former Gamecock head coach Steve Spurrier. This year, the series returns to Columbia, S.C., where the Tigers have won four in a row, seven out of the last ten and fifteen out of the last twenty.
That is domination, people …
Can South Carolina flip the script and win its first home rivalry game in a decade?
To do so, the Gamecocks must rely on Rattler – the Oklahoma transfer who has eclipsed the 3,000-yard passing mark for the second straight season at South Carolina and who has completed an impressive 70.6 percent of his passes on the year. The 6-foot-1, 217-pound Phoenix, Arizona native has 19 touchdowns through the air and another four on the ground.
His top target? The X-factor, Xavier Legette. After finishing 2022 as the No. 10 receiver on the team – with eighteen catches for 167 yards – Legette has become one of the most dominant wideouts in the country in this season. Through eleven games, the 6-foot-3, 227-pound Mullins, S.C. native has hauled in 65 catches for 1,187 yards – the second-best total in Gamecock history.
For those of you wondering, the single season school record for receiving is 1,517 yards – set in 2010 by Alshon Jeffery.
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Legette will face his toughest test of the season this year against Clemson cornerback Nate Wiggins. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound speedster from Atlanta, Georgia is currently listed as the No. 20 overall selection in the 2024 NFL draft, according to ESPN’s Mel Kiper.
“He has the length and recovery speed to match up effectively with any wideout he goes up against,” Kiper noted.
Clemson fans concur …
“Our guy is better than theirs!” one wrote bluntly on TigerNet this week.
We will see if that’s true on Saturday when Wiggins and Legette go head-to-head in one of the most exciting individual matchups in this year’s rivalry.
On offense, Clemson is powered by a twin-engine rushing attack consisting of junior tailbacks Phil Mafah and Will Shipley. This dynamic duo (dare we say thunder and lightning, part II?) have combined for 1,523 yards on 290 carries – an average of 5.25 yards per tote. Dual-threat sophomore quarterback Cade Klubnik also causes matchup problems for opposing defenses, and is starting to play his best football as the season winds down. Like Rattler, Klubnik has four rushing touchdowns to go with 19 scoring strikes through the air this year.
The big game – which will be attended by former president Donald Trump – is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. EST at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C. ESPN will provide nationwide coverage, with Taylor Zarzour, Matt Stinchcomb and Alyssa Lang calling the action.
Who do you think will prevail? Whether you are voting with your head or your heart, be sure to cast your ballot! Then post your thoughts in our always-engaging comments section below …
Who will win the 2023 Palmetto Bowl?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children.
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