From possibility to instability – that’s the course taken this season by South Carolina. An opening win against North Carolina quickly turned turbulent with harsh SEC losses, the sudden retirement of their legendary coach, and an inexplicable defeat at the hands of the Citadel. Now, as the season came to a close, the Gamecocks hosted #1 Clemson – South Carolina’s bitter instate rival who is eyeing a national championship.
Therefore, the Palmetto Bowl (as the rivalry is known), was setting up to be a rout. But, would Clemson overlook their instate foe? It certainly would appear that way. A packed Williams-Brice Stadium featured a heavy dose of Tiger orange anxious to witness their team’s quest for a perfect regular season. However, South Carolina’s famed entrance to the song “2001: A Space Odyssey” had the Gamecocks and their fans primed to intimidate. In fact, a flurry of turnovers and an inspired defense kept the contest scoreless through the initial quarter.
In the second quarter, Heisman candidate Deshaun Watson would get his band playing the fight song – two TDs to take the lead. Casual fans would make the inference that the Tigers would pull away with ease.
But, this is one of those rivalries where records are superfluous. South Carolina would hang around in the third and generate a furious rally in the fourth quarter that cut Clemson’s lead to three. We had spent three quarters checking out the game from different stadium perspectives, but we saved the best for last. At the moment when South Carolina scored the touchdown that trimmed the Tiger lead to a field goal, we are amongst the students. The celebratory explosion was deafening. Fans waved their towels collectively as “Sandstorm” blasted over the speakers.
But, another Watson touchdown would put the game too far out of reach for the Gamecocks. South Carolina would still fight and cut the game to a 37-32 final, but Clemson ultimately reached their goal of completing a perfect regular season.
The college football playoff selection committee factors in the heated nature of rivalry games, and that was lucky for the Tigers because Williams-Brice was a den of frothing crazies poised to destroy Clemson’s title hopes. The Tigers would advance to the ACC title game where they would nip North Carolina and remain the only undefeated team in college football. Their #1 status carried them into the playoffs where they would meet Alabama for the national championship. However, the dream would end there as the Tide took the crown.
Now, as the 2016 season opens, Clemson and Alabama top the polls again. Can the Tigers string together another thrilling and adventurous season? Can the Tide repeat?
A fresh slate speaks to the vastness of possibility.