It's hard to believe that the final week of the regular season is here. It's even harder to believe that this will be the final game this year for the Gamecocks, and that Clemson comes into Williams-Brice ranked #1 in the nation with an 11-0 record. The spread for the Palmetto Bowl opened 15.5 in favor of Clemson, but that has since moved to 19. According to The State this is the largest point spread in the recorded history of the series, but given the respective performances of these two programs in 2015 it is honestly surprising that the Tigers aren't favored by more. Having said that, I definitely don't think Clemson is the best team in the country this year. The ACC is consistently one of the worst of the Power 5 conferences this year, and the two respectable teams on their schedule met the Tigers without their starting QBs. While they may not be the best team in the country, they have the Gamecocks outmatched on both sides of the ball without a doubt, and moreover they have the Gamecocks beat on the sideline. I think Brent Venables has proven himself to be one of the top defensive coordinators in the country with the job he has done this year dealing with a substantial loss of talent and depleted depth at several position groups. Recent weeks have shown that the Gamecocks have nowhere near the coaching ability that Clemson will bring to Columbia.
The more I thought about this game, the more I realized that this wasn't an entirely hopeless scenario. What we have here is a dare to be great situation, and I believe Lloyd Dobler would concur. Out of all the potential ways Clemson and Carolina could meet at the end of the season, here's how I would rank them (assuming a Gamecock victory of course):
- Both teams undefeated heading into the final game, ranked #1 and #2. ESPN Gameday is on campus (doesn't matter which) and this is the biggest game of the college football season. Gamecocks win, obviously.
- Gamecocks come into the game undefeated against a terrible Clemson team. South Carolina proceeds to absolutely crush the Tigers a la West Virginia in 2011, putting a bow on top of an undefeated regular season.
- A terrible USC teams faces an undefeated Clemson team as a massive underdog, but pulls the upset to wreck the Tigers perfect season and CFP hopes.
Now I must point out that Clemson is has the potential to achieve scenario 2 tomorrow. Up to this point my favorite Palmetto Bowl was the one in 2013, the first ever top-10 match-up between the two teams. If the Gamecocks could pull out the victory tomorrow it would likely replace the 2013 team at the top of my list.
I doubt that is going to happen, though. The Gamecocks have proven the past few weeks that they can be competitive with some pretty decent teams, but they haven't proven that they can win against them. Clemson flat out has too much talent at the skill positions on offense for our defense to have a hope of handling, and the Gamecock offense has been varying degrees of terrible all year. I just hope that the Gamecocks keep the game competitive and that the fans show up to support some great Gamecock players who were part of the best teams in program history and will be playing their final game in garnet and black. Prediction: USC 14 - Clemson 35