COLUMBIA — Top-ranked Clemson has been here before: With its undefeated season on the line and facing its bitter rival.
“It’s definitely a different dynamic you have to get through,” said Bill Smith, a defensive lineman on the 1981 title team that won 29-13 at South Carolina on the way to the championship.
Clemson fans are hoping for a bit of déjà vu.
The unbeaten Tigers (11-0) close the regular season against the Gamecocks (3-8) today. A Clemson victory likely maintains its spot in the College Football Playoff rankings. A loss would go down as perhaps the most shocking result in the series that began in 1896.
“This game isn’t any more important to them than it is to us,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “We’re going to get everybody’s best effort each and every week. But that’s really not our focus. It’s really just about how we play. All I know is South Carolina is going to play their tails off, but so are we.”
Smith recalls how difficult the 1981 Gamecocks made it for the Tigers – and he knows this current team understands it won’t be a walk in the park.
“They know what’s ahead of them,” said Smith, a member of Clemson’s board of trustees.
Clemson’s road to a title is certainly a longer trek than what Smith’s team faced. The Tigers play North Carolina in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game on Dec. 5 and then, if still undefeated, await a national semifinal game at New Year’s
The ultimate prize comes in January if the Tigers get into the national championship contest.
South Carolina comes in off a 23-22 loss to FCS opponent Citadel, its first loss to a lower division team in 25 years.
Gamecocks interim coach Shawn Elliott said his players have shown more intensity at practice.
“There was more of a focused look and energy into what we had to prepare for this week and the No. 1 team in the nation in Clemson,” he said. “The mentality seemed to be right on point.”