The Next Level

It was only a month ago that football fans in the Palmetto state were left wondering why the Clemson-South Carolina game was only being televised regionally by Jefferson-Pilot. <BR>

After all, the Lou Holtz - Tommy Bowden match up had prompted ESPN or ESPN-2 to pick up the game, more times than not.

But with both teams struggling to get to six wins this year, there was little doubt why this year's contest lacked national interest. Clemson's late season surge was spoiled the week before against Duke, and South Carolina continued its trend of fading down the stretch in the Southeastern Conference by losing three of its last four games.

Certainly, the game was important to the people in the state of South Carolina, but was it significant on a national level?

Let's face the facts, nobody really cared.

But now, just under four weeks later, one could easily make the case that next season, no matter what the records may be, this rivalry will garner more attention than it ever has.

Consider, for a moment, all that has transpired since the afternoon Nov. 20.

Following a five minute brawl that occurred in the fourth quarter of Clemson's 29-7 win over South Carolina, a firestorm was set into motion, as both schools contemplated eliminating themselves from post season play.

Just two days later, both institutions announced, within hours of each other, that they would not allow their respective football teams to play in a bowl game.

For South Carolina, it likely cost the team a spot in the Independence Bowl. For Clemson, it cost the team a spot in either the Continential Tire Bowl or the MPC Computers Bowl.

Both decisions were covered and publicized by national media, ranging from the USA Today to ESPN.

And that was only the beginning.

The picture of Yusef Kelly kicking a South Carolina player, while he was laying on the ground, has been etched in the memory of everyone on the east coast, thanks in part to its release in the New York Times, the Charlotte Observer, and several other publications in the days following the fight.

And there were other sub plots and stories that emerged that afternoon that continue to be discussed on sports talk radio today. For whatever reasons, right or wrong, the fight at the end of that football game seems to be a story that won't go away.

There was the Gamecock helmet being tossed into the stands, there was the issue of several South Carolina players coming over to the Hill as the Tigers made their entrance into Memorial Stadium, there were cheap shots taken by both teams, and much, much more.

At the same time, South Carolina head coach Lou Holtz decided to retire, only confirming rumors that had been circulating around the state for weeks. As soon as Holtz was gone, the door was left open for Steve Spurrier, who asked, "Why not us?"

And it doesn't stop there.

Soon after the Thanksgiving holidays, the Gamecocks set their sites squarely on several of Clemson's most highly regarded verbal commitments. From Thomas Austin to Rendrick Taylor to Antwan Murchison, the South Carolina coaching staff put on a full court press to try and sway the minds of many of Clemson's top verbal commitments in their 2005 recruiting class.

The Tigers and Gamecocks also battled through one of the most thrilling basketball games in recent memory just ten days ago in the Colonial Center. Clemson freshman Cheyenne Moore sank a 25-foot three pointer in overtime to lift the Tigers to the 63-62 come-from-behind win.

And now this.

It was learned on Wednesday that Steve Spurrier tried to lure Clemson running backs coach Burton Burns and Clemson offensive line coach Brad Scott to coach at South Carolina.

Spurrier's reasoning behind such a move is anybody's guess. Maybe he thought he could pull it off. Maybe he just wanted his neighbors in the upstate to know that he's arrived in Columbia. Maybe he's just being Steve Spurrier.

In reality, it doesn't really matter because both coaches elected to stay with Tommy Bowden. And in the end, it comes off as a nice public relations boost for the Clemson football program, because neither coach left.

However it does matter when one considers the bigger picture.

Looking at all the events that have transpired over the course of the last 25 days, this rivalry has already reached a point that fans from both schools were calling for just one month ago.

It's there already.

It's at the next level. It's at a level where the tension can be felt across the state. From the McFadden Building at Clemson to downtown Columbia, people are talking about it, and already looking forward to "next year."

And when it finally gets here, the annual rivalry game between Clemson and South Carolina will be as important, as intense, and as hard hitting as ever.

Like it or not, the events of the last month have set the wheels into motion. The Clemson-South Carolina rivalry may have lacked true national drama in year's past, but that's anything but true now.

From the South Carolina's signing of the "old ball coach," to "the fight," to the recent domination by Clemson in this series - there are a million reasons why this rivalry has grown into an entirely different animal.

And while some of those reasons may not be ideal, its just more fuel to add to the fire.

And that fire is growing as each day passes by. Top Stories