I’ve spent much of the last week talking with people, regular people who wear their garnet and black or orange and purple proudly on game days.
That said, I’ve come to two correlating conclusions: there is less buzz around this year’s South Carolina-Clemson football game than any in recent memory and the result all but seems a foregone conclusion in the minds of both fan bases.
Clemson (11-0) has bigger things to look forward to than Saturday’s game in Columbia. Not that the rivalry aspect of things won’t be enough to get the Tigers’ attention, but Clemson has a conference title game with a nine-win team to look forward to, and if the chalk holds up, another berth in the College Football Playoff.
The Gamecocks (4-7) would love to spoil all of those things, and in theory, could. A softer-than-usual ACC schedule means Clemson doesn’t have a mulligan this year in their pursuit of a national championship. The only thing is, South Carolina looks ill-equipped to do so. While its defense may prove to be one of the better units Clemson has faced this year, the offense ranks 119th in the country in points scored against non-FBS teams and 96th in yards per play.
To make matters worse, the Gamecocks' best offensive player, Bryan Edwards, is likely out for this game after a knee scope. South Carolina looked downright listless without Edwards in a 30-6 loss to Texas A&M and managed just nine points outside of an Edwards breakaway touchdown in a 20-15 loss to Appalachian State.
It’s the largest point spread we've seen (since those things started getting tracked in 1995), with Clemson opening as a 24-point point favorite and an influx of money ballooning that total to 27 as of Friday night. ESPN’s FPI index gives the Tigers about a 90-percent chance of winning.
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The only thing the Gamecocks have to hang their hat on heading into this one in a 20-17 overtime win over No. 4 Georgia. But as the season has played out, the game looks a lot more like an outlier than the norm. South Carolina inexplicably beat Georgia on the road, but finished 3-5 in the SEC East and lost to a Sun Belt team on senior night.
So the Tigers, in all likelihood, will win.
The question is what that looks like and what happens after that?
University president Bob Caslen and athletic director Ray Tanner have publicly supported Will Muschamp. Although Caslen alluded to the possibility of Tanner comparing buyout notes with Florida State earlier this month, before officially walking his statement back.
Muschamp’s job security seems shaky at best with those type conversations playing out. So, regardless of what’s been publicly said, is it really that secure? Would a 25-24 record be enough to keep him around after four years?
What happens if Saturday’s result is on the ugly side? Say 56-6, Clemson. What if Williams-Brice Stadium is awash with orange by the third quarter, and trustees watch from high above before taking the rest of the afternoon to ponder the future? What happens then?
It's an interesting scenario to ponder, but something tells me it's a little closer on the scoreboard late and Muschamp is back in 2020, with a reduced buyout and an offensive staff overhaul.
Prediction: Clemson 38, South Carolina 13.