When South Carolina plays Clemson, nothing has to be at stake. The two longtime, bitter rivals could both be winless and the game could be played in a parking lot in front of a Piggly Wiggly and the game would mean everything to the folks from the Palmetto State.
That is far from the case in 2016. While Clemson has completed step one by winning the ACC Atlantic Division, the Tigers have their sights set on getting back to the College Football Playoff and a loss to the Gamecocks would shatter that dream.
For South Carolina, new head coach Will Muschamp has unexpectedly lead the Gamecocks to six wins and bowl eligibility. Championship aspirations are obviously out of the question, but a win this week would certainly make them more attractive to a more prestigious bowl.
The Gamecocks won the first meeting back in 1896, but Clemson holds a commanding 67-42-4 lead in the Palmetto Bowl.
South Carolina at Clemson
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 26 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Clemson -24
Three Things to Watch
1. Jake Bentley vs. Clemson Defense
The should-be high school senior has had a sensational start to his college career. In five games, Bentley has completed 66 percent of his throws with six touchdowns and just one interception. But the Gamecocks’ offensive staff has not asked him to do a lot. Plus, in the game against Florida – which is clearly the best defense Bentley has faced – he finished 18 of 33 with no touchdowns and one pick. Part of the problem was his offensive line struggled with protection as Bentley was sacked five times. Keeping the quarterback upright has been an issue all year for South Carolina, which isn’t good news when facing Carlos Watkins and his friends.
2. Wayne Gallman vs. the South Carolina Rush Defense
Gallman had his best game of the season last week with 161 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the win over Wake Forest. That he did it against a pretty good Demon Deacons defense is even more impressive. South Carolina is not as stout against the run as Wake Forest, opening up the possibility of another big outing from Gallman. The junior from Loganville, Ga., ran for 102 yards against the Gamecocks last year and had 191 in 2014, so he knows a thing or two about beating up the team in garnet and black.
3. South Carolina Must Get Some Breaks
Clemson has more talent than South Carolina; that cannot be debated. But the Tigers have let some inferior teams hang around this year and in the case of Pittsburgh, the result was a Clemson defeat. Part of the reason – and the way the Gamecocks can compete in this game – is if Clemson gets sloppy. The Tigers have turned the ball over 22 times and South Carolina is plus-10 in turnover margin. Perhaps the Gamecocks can return a kick or a punt for a score. Whatever the case, the South Carolina will need points – or be set up for some – in an unconventional ways if it hopes to pull off the big road upset.
Coming off of last year’s 3-9 campaign and starting the year at 2-4, it didn’t look like South Carolina would provide much juice for this edition of the Palmetto Bowl. But freshman Jake Bentley was inserted at quarterback and all of a sudden the Gamecocks have a winning record. Clemson is the most complete team that South Carolina has played since Bentley took over and arguably the best it has faced all season, which is saying something considering the Gamecocks hail from the SEC. Picking Clemson games has been difficult because these Tigers have been wildly inconsistent. But I do think Dabo Swinney will have his team ready for South Carolina from the moment the Tigers run down the hill. Wayne Gallman will open things up with the run and Deshaun Watson will have a nice day throwing the ball as Clemson finishes its regular season with a solid, well-rounded effort at home.
Prediction: Clemson 35, South Carolina 14
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.