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Why high-stakes Clemson game is best — and worst — case scenario for South Carolina football



COLUMBIA — After a gritty 17-14 upset of Kentucky, South Carolina football is barreling towards a win-or-go home showdown with rival Clemson in the final week of the regular season.

The Gamecocks (5-6) are one game away from the six-win bowl threshold, a scenario that felt practically impossible three weeks ago when the team was 2-6. When the Tigers (7-4) come to Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday (7:30 p.m., SEC Network), it will be the first time bowl eligibility is on the line for either team since the modern criteria was introduced in 2006.

It’s been a long time since the Palmetto Bowl rivalry felt evenly matched: Clemson won seven in a row from 2014-21, but the Gamecocks won the five before that from 2009-13. South Carolina’s one-point victory in 2022 was the first single-digit win for either team since Clemson won by five in 2015, and it was the narrowest margin of victory since a 21-21 in 1986.

Why high-stakes Clemson game favors South Carolina

South Carolina is no stranger to clutch late-season victories under coach Shane Beamer, and while the game script was wildly different, the energy around the program after beating Kentucky bears feels similar to last season’s Week 12 upset of Tennessee. The Gamecocks went on to end Clemson’s 40-game home winning streak with a 31-30 victory at Death Valley, their first win in the rivalry since 2013.

This season, the odds are even stronger in South Carolina’s favor. Clemson has been unranked since Week 4 and is poised to finish outside of the final AP Top 25 poll for the first time since 2010. The Tigers look as vulnerable as they have in more than a decade with four ACC losses for the first time since 2008.

The game is also at Williams-Brice Stadium, where the Gamecocks are 5-1 this season. Every win in South Carolina’s current three-game streak has come at home, as have all three of its SEC wins. Beamer described the atmosphere against Kentucky as the loudest he has experienced since taking over the program, and it showed in two false starts and a delay of game penalty on the Wildcats’ offense.

How Clemson could benefit from pressure on South Carolina

Clemson has far lower stakes in this matchup than South Carolina does, but this is unquestionably a revenge game for the Tigers. Losing to the Gamecocks last year ended any hope Clemson had of making a case for College Football Playoff contention, and so it would be fitting for the Tigers to return the favor and kill South Carolina’s postseason ambitions at its own stadium.

The Tigers have no real stakes beyond their own ego in the rivalry, but less pressure can be helpful for a team that is massively underperforming preseason expectations. The Gamecocks haven’t lived up to the hype either, but it will be hard for fans to see the season as anything but a failure without a bowl game or a win over Clemson.

SHANE BEAMER: South Carolina football upset of Kentucky proved Shane Beamer is building culture to last

If South Carolina lost to Kentucky, it would instead be the team with nothing to lose. As valuable as that momentum was for the Gamecocks, they’re now going to be judged on the result of one game against an opponent that is objectively more talented on paper. That’s an enormous weight to put onto a young roster with multiple starters that have never experienced the hostility of the Palmetto Bowl rivalry, and it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Gamecocks show some critical cracks.

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