USC may just be ready to put 'rival' back in rivalry with Clemson


Maybe - just maybe - the rival is back in the rivalry between Clemson and South Carolina in football.

Let's face it. The past two seasons there was no doubt the Tigers were going to beat USC on their way to playing for the national title. In 2015, it was actually a victory of sorts for the 3-win Gamecocks against undefeated Clemson, as USC stayed in the game until the fourth quarter before losing 37-32.

Last year, even though it was 6-win Carolina against the once-beaten Tigers, everyone seemed to sense a beat down was imminent. Clemson lambasted South Carolina 56-7 on the way to winning the national title.

Now, here we are with 8-3 USC playing host to the 10-1 Tigers on Saturday night in Williams-Brice Stadium on ESPN. Despite the Gamecocks having a better record than most anticipated, the Tigers are still a 2-touchdown-plus favorite. While it isn't hard to see the line being that substantial, it also isn't hard to see Carolina not only beating the spread, but beating Clemson as well.

I am saying this is absolutely, positively going to happen? No, but as opposed to the two previous seasons when there really wasn't a snowball's chance of South Carolina winning, the possibility certainly exists this time around.

While Kelly Bryant has exceeded all expectations in replacing Deshaun Watson at quarterback for the Tigers, the fact still remains that he isn't Watson. Clemson's offense isn't as good as last year's unit; how can it be when you lose the likes of Watson, running back Wayne Gallman, wide receiver Mike Williams and tight end Jordan Leggett? And the Gamecock defense, while still far from a supreme unit, is a much improved one from the end of last season, especially when it comes to making big plays at opportune times.

In order to have a chance at a victory, Carolina is going to need a superb performance from its defense, and that still may not be enough. However, even though South Carolina appears to have a lot of talent on the offensive side of the football, it has done nothing to be considered no better than average for most of the season. Going up against the Tigers' stout defensive unit should not help it in showing drastic improvement in the 12th game of the year.

That being said, Clemson did allow 27 points to a Syracuse team that hasn't won since that upset, so the door is certainly open.

Can the Gamecocks pull it off? The odds are against them, but the chance is certainly there. And that is what you want in a rivalry of this magnitude. There wasn't much to talk about the past two seasons because both sides pretty much knew what was going to happen. This time around, Clemson is certainly the favorite, but there is some cautiously optimistic smack talk coming from Gamecock Nation.

They may have to eat their words, but at least they will have had to this time around.