It's not the size of the Gamecock in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the Gamecock. That cliche, or at least one very similar to it, is something that every football player hears again and again from the first time he straps on a helmet. The Gamecocks wound up on the wrong side of this cliche on Saturday with a surprising loss to the Citadel that left some fans crying in the street.
While it would be understandable if the Gamecocks lost heart when Steve Spurrier quit on them, it's unfair to say that these players have not fought through this season. Every game they've played has come down to the final whistle. They simply have the unfortunate habit of playing to the level of their opponent. Or at least that's what I'm telling myself heading into this weekend's game with top ranked Clemson.
Clemson can't help but feel nervous about this game. "Clemsoning" is like the yips. It could rear it's ugly head at any moment. And Clemson isn't only playing for an undefeated season. They are playing for the reputation of the ACC, as well. Can you imagine an ACC Championship game in which both teams have lost to South Carolina? By the way the college football playoff committee has disrespected North Carolina due to their "bad loss" to the Gamecocks, Clemson can expect to drop out of the playoffs if they lose this game.
Looking at the Dabo years, it's amazing that Clemson hasn't been able to beat South Carolina more often. Nuk is the best receiver in the NFL. How could Clemson lose with that guy? They've also had Sammy Watkins and Andre Ellington and Dwayne Allen and Martavis Bryant and CJ Spiller and still they lost! It's incredible that these players, who are dominating in the NFL, were losing to the likes of Bruce Ellington, Mike Davis, and Dylan Thompson. Dabo's troubling 2-5 record against South Carolina should also cause Clemson fans to worry.
The pressure of high expectations combined with the burden of overcoming previous failures is generally a recipe for indigestion. I suspect Clemson fans will consume fewer helpings of turkey this Thanksgiving, while the Gamecocks will be busy stuffing themselves. The Gamecocks have nothing left to lose this season. The fate of interim coach Sean Elliott was sealed with the loss to the Citadel. Junior wide receiver Pharoh Cooper has already announced he will leave early for the NFL, and there will be no bowl game this year. The Gamecocks will leave everything on the field in this game.
There is no winning this game for Clemson; they can only avoid losing it. Winning is expected. But, if they lose, all the talk of Clemsoning returns, Dabo is humiliated, and Clemson fails to make the playoffs.
Happy Thanksgiving, Tigers. See ya Saturday.