After a one-year break due to COVID that interrupted one of the oldest rivalries in college football after 111 consecutive years, Clemson and South Carolina are eager to renew acquaintances on Saturday night in Columbia, S.C.
"We're excited about the state championship being back in play," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "I think everyone missed it last year. It's a long-standing tradition in college football. It will be a great game and a great environment."
The Tigers (8-3) will look to continue their dominance in the rivalry. Clemson is seeking its seventh consecutive victory in the series, which it leads 71-42-4, and would tie for the longest winning streak (also by Clemson) in the series.
A Clemson victory also would make Swinney the first coach on either side to win seven straight games in the series, but Swinney has been impressed by what first-year head coach Shane Beamer has been able to accomplish in his initial campaign at South Carolina (6-5).
"They are playing physical, with a ton of effort and it's a reflection of what Shane Beamer has done in a short amount of time," Swinney said. "They are 5-1 at home. They have battled every week. They have found a little bit of an identity."
That identity is a run-first offense. In last week's win against Auburn, South Carolina got 99 yards rushing and a receiving touchdown from running back ZaQuandre White, who is averaging 6.9 yards per carry and has emerged as the primary threat in a backfield that also includes Kevin Harris, who's rushed for 465 yards.
The Gamecocks defeated Florida and Auburn in two of their last three games, with the only loss a three-point defeat at Missouri. The win against Auburn clinched the program's first six-win season and bowl opportunity since 2018.
Clemson, meanwhile, still has a slim but mathematical chance at a seventh straight Atlantic Coast Conference Championship. The Tigers, who cracked the College Football Playoff rankings for the first time this season at No. 23 on Tuesday, need a North Carolina victory against N.C. State on Friday night coupled with a Boston College upset of Wake Forest on Saturday to win the league's Atlantic Division and a title-game berth.
"We've done all we can -- we can't waste any energy focusing on that," Swinney said. "We just need to focus on winning the state championship."
Clemson has lost 17 players this season due to season-ending injury or transfer, which helps explain why the Tigers won't start a single senior on offense on Saturday and will start underclassmen at quarterback, running back and all three wide receiver positions.
"I think you could certainly make the case that he should be coach of the year in their conference with the injuries they've overcome all over the field," Beamer said. "So many new faces going into the season, and to struggle by their standards a little bit earlier in the season, to just continue to get better each week, to be sitting here with eight wins...they are certainly peaking at the right time."
The Tigers have won four in a row and six of their last seven games, including a dominating 48-27 victory against then-No. 10 Wake Forest last week in which Clemson had two 100-yard rushers and amassed 543 total yards in their most productive offensive output of the season.
Clemson's defense, meanwhile, remains the team's calling card. The Tigers rank first in the ACC and eighth nationally in scoring defense, allowing 16.4 points per game. Clemson had 10 tackles for loss and eight sacks against Wake Forest.
"Defensively, they're fantastic," Beamer said. "They're all over the place. When you're ranked in the top four in the country in sacks and tackles for loss, that's pretty amazing."
--Field Level Media