CLEMSON - No. 4 Clemson has one last regular-season test to pass before it thinks about another deep postseason run.
The Tigers (10-1, No. 2 College Football Playoff) close the year at rival South Carolina (8-3), which is itching to end Clemson's 3-year win streak and gain a measure of revenge for last year's embarrassing 56-7 loss at Death Valley . Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott believes his players must keep composed and focused on their goal of getting out unscathed at Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday night to keep intact their run at a second straight national title.
Elliott said Clemson's success in big, loud, crazy stadiums against ranked opponents like Louisville, Virginia Tech and North Carolina State earlier this year will serve them well against the Gamecocks.
"Our guys have had experience, they've been in this situation," Elliott said Monday. "We're appreciative of the opportunities we've had to go on the road. But we also know this is going to be a very loud, hostile environment and make sure our guys have the right focus and attention to detail n practice."
Both rivals won easily over in-state FCS opponents this past Saturday, the Tigers 61-3 over The Citadel and the Gamecocks 31-10 over Wofford. Both feel confident and healthy heading into what is the biggest single sporting event in the Palmetto State.
"If you don't get excited about playing your archrival, then something is wrong with you," South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said. "That's the way I look at it."
Muschamp was visibly shaken after last year's battering and soon after his players took up the rally cry, "Never again." Despite South Carolina's improvement - the team has won eight games for the first time since 2013 and finished second in the Southeastern Conference East - it is a two-touchdown underdog to the Tigers.
Elliott said Clemson can't get caught up in that hype and must remain steady in its mindset and preparation if it hopes to extend its series win streak.
Defensive end Clelin Ferrell, a junior from Virginia, said he didn't realize the intensity of the rivalry until visiting the Gamecocks while being recruited. He had stopped in a Waffle House in the Columbia area and saw a man walk in wearing a Clemson shirt. "Next thing I know, I see people trying to fight him," Ferrell recalled. "I thought, 'Man, what's going on with that?' But it's really real down here."
Ferrell, though, said neither he nor other players should need the boost of a rival to energize their preparations, no matter how intense the fans' passion for the game. "That shouldn't be your motivation behind playing," he said. "It should be wanting to go out there play your best for your team."
Ever since the Tigers fell at Syracuse 27-24 , they've been on a week-to-week playoff run, since any additional loss would knock them from CFP contention. Linebacker Kendall Joseph said the team has done a good job keeping that out of their heads and putting all its focus on who's up next.
"When you've been here long enough, you know every game is important," he said. "It's definitely a big game as far as getting into the playoffs."
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said the easy, early win over The Citadel gave the Tigers the chance to mostly rest injured front-line players like linebacker Joseph, cornerback Marcus Edmond, safety Tanner Muse and tackle Mitch Hyatt to ensure they're close to their best come the weekend.
"It's great to go and play in environments like that," said Swinney, who is 4-6 against the Gamecocks. "We all know the emotions that are tied into this game. This is one of the best weeks of the year."