CLEMSON — Has it really been four years?
On a rainy, gray day in Death Valley, as the clock ticked towards zero, the chants rained from the upper decks.
“Da-BO SWINNEY! Da-BO SWINNEY!”
That day, Clemson whipped South Carolina, 31-14, and all seemed right in Tiger fans’ worlds.
The Tigers were going bowling, and Swinney had cemented his selection as Clemson’s full-time head coach. Two days later and four floors above the stadium floor, he was introduced as the new boss.
His tenure has been, by most measures, a success. Clemson has won or shared three ACC Atlantic Division titles, something his predecessor, Tommy Bowden, could never accomplish.
Last year, the Tigers won their first ACC title in 20 years. They’ve won in Atlanta. They’ve won on Thursday night. Swinney continues to bring in talented recruiting classes to play in sparkling new facilities, and those recruits graduate and, largely, stay out of trouble.
Just one thing sticks in fans’ collective craw – the inability to beat South Carolina.
Not only has Swinney failed to beat the Gamecocks, it hasn’t even been close.
Over the last three years, South Carolina has outscored Clemson 97-37, winning by an average of 20 points. It’s the Gamecocks’ first three-game winning streak in the series since 1968-70.
And you better believe that doesn’t sit well with a fan base which got used to dominating its hated rival.
1,450 days have passed since Clemson last beat South Carolina. That’s 1,450 days that Clemson fans have had to live with Gamecock fans reminding them of that fact.
The rivalry is so intense that Swinney joked that he felt sorry for fans of other programs who happen to live in the state and are forced to listen to the chatter.
Saturday, the Tigers have their best shot at changing that tune.
South Carolina comes to Clemson for a 7 p.m. kickoff in what will be the most-anticipated game in the rivalry’s history. The Tigers are 10-1, their best regular-season record since their 1981 national title season. The Gamecocks are 9-2, ranked No.13 nationally, just a spot behind No.12 Clemson.
Nothing less than a potential bid to the Sugar Bowl is on the line for the Tigers, who rank in the top 10 nationally in passing offense, scoring offense and total offense. They opened Sunday as four-point favorites.
Win, and Clemson likely gets a BCS bid.
Win, and the chirping coming from the Midlands stops.
Lose, and the likely prize is another trip to Atlanta and the Chick-fil-A Bowl, and another year of pointed barbs.
When Steve Spurrier complemented Swinney Sunday, it came as something of a surprise, given the war of words the two have waged back and forth over the last year.
It started when Swinney, angered by an alleged slight from South Carolina’s official Twitter account, went on a rant that called North Carolina “the real Carolina” and Southern California “the real USC,” ending, emphatically, “and you can tweet that.”
Spurrier has fired back by saying he was going to “the real Death Valley” before South Carolina played LSU and added that Swinney talks “a bunch of garbage and B.S” after Swinney gushed about Marcus Lattimore following the tailback’s gruesome knee injury.
Even if they make nice, the two don’t appear to like each other, which only pours gasoline on the torches carried by the respective fan bases.
This is a chance for Clemson fans to quiet the talk – and Spurrier – with an explosive offense that has scored at least 37 points in 10 consecutive games, capped by Saturday’s 62-point, 754-yard effort against N.C. State.
It is a far more mature offense, playing behind a better offensive line than the one that paved the way for only 153 yards in Columbia last November.
While Clemson’s defense hasn’t always carried its share of the load, the offense is good enough to prop it up on almost any night.
If not this week, when do the Tigers break their personal chicken curse?
Fans want a reason to chant Dabo’s name again – and there’s no better time than the present to do so.