Say what you want to say about Tommy Bowden and Clemson football.
Say you are upset the Tigers haven't won the Atlantic Coast Conference during Bowden's nine years as Clemson's head coach.
Say you are disappointed this year's team came literally one play away from competing in the ACC Championship game for the third consecutive season.
All of that is more than understandable.
The realistic Clemson fans aren't expecting National Championships but they do want to see consistent progress, and Bowden, for the most part, has provided that.
Again, say what you want to say about Bowden, but the fact is he has always had one of several key aspects of his program going in the right direction- he owns the South Carolina Gamecocks.
Let the facts be stated clearly before this discussion goes any further:
During his nine years as head coach of the Tigers Bowden has established a 7-2 record against Hall of Famers Lou Holtz and Steve Spurrier.
He's dominated his archrival in every way imaginable: close games, blowouts and controversial calls. You name the type of game and he's figured out a way to win.
There was the 31-21 win in Columbia in 1999 when a 4th-and-10 touchdown pass turned an uncomfortable fourth quarter lead against the winless Gamecocks into a reasonable 10-point victory.
There was "The Catch II" with Rod Gardner one year later.
There was the 46-point massacre on national television in South Carolina's backyard.
There was the 23-21 victory this past year, cementing South Carolina's postseason destination of nowhere.
Sure, Lou Holtz brought in nationally ranked recruiting classes. He brought a toughness back to a Carolina team that was seemingly lacking in that aspect of the game for the previous five years.
But it didn't matter.
He won one game in six tries against Clemson.
Since 2005, Steve Spurrier has brought in two nationally ranked recruiting classes, including the No. 7 class in the country last season according to Scout.com. He brought his old ball plays and of course, he is the "evil genius."
It still didn't matter.
"Yeah, the old ball coach is going to draw up some ball plays and he's going to lead us to an SEC Championship," South Carolina fans say.
No he's not.
This year's version of the "old ball plays" actually end up ranked well below than Carolina's defense, which finished the year 56th nationally and ninth in the SEC. That's right, the old ball coach helped lead his team to the No. 77 offense in the country this past season.
For all the magic, luster, anticipation and excitement coming into 2007, in the end, it was a five-game losing streak and the lack of a bowl game that led Tyrone Nix, South Carolina's defensive coordinator, to go to Mississippi.
Sorry Steve, it's not 1996 and you don't have Heisman Trophy QB Danny Wuerffel, future NFL great Fred Taylor and WR Ike Hilliard running your offense.
In fact, there is every reason to believe Spurrier's offense, which was nearly unstoppable during his run of six SEC Championships and a national title at Florida in the 1990s is simply out of date.
The numbers support that notion: 69th in scoring this season, 44th in 2006 and 75th in 2005. The passing numbers are better but still leave much to be desired: 39th this season, 19th in 2006 and 65th in 2005.
Even more shocking is the fact Spurrier has lost more games in the SEC during his three years at South Carolina (13) than his entire 12 seasons at Florida (12).
ESPN's Lee Corso was right all along. When he proclaimed more than two years ago on the famed College GameDay show that winning at South Carolina isn't easy and in fact, may be impossible, he was dead on.
However, allow me to take it a step further and add this: based on the first three seasons of what the old ball coach has been able to accomplish in Columbia, there is every reason to believe his time at South Carolina will be viewed as nothing more than a failure.
That is, unless you like postseason trips to Shreveport or Memphis.
Don't get me wrong, Spurrier will likely improve the program from where it was during the last three years of the Holtz regime. He'll be competitive in the SEC despite the fact he is 6-10 in last two seasons. And don't forget- he's beaten teams that Holtz never could like Tennessee and Florida.
But he hasn't gotten the Gamecocks to a bowl outside of games sponsored by PetroSun or Autozone.
National Championships? SEC championships? Consistently beating Clemson?
Are you serious?
Not in a league where the upper echelon teams like LSU, Auburn, Georgia and Florida are consistently competing for the big prize- the Sears Trophy.
Spurrier suggested in the media earlier this week his team was a play call away from beating the Tigers this season. While true, he was also a play call away from getting blown out of the building. An early third quarter interception in the end zone by the Tigers turned a potential laugher into one of the most exciting finishes in the history of the rivalry.
But the fact remains South Carolina has never consistently beaten Clemson in its 100 plus years of football. Never. And for the foreseeable future, that's not going to change.
South Carolina fans can be fooled into thinking next year will be better, but it won't. Not in the SEC and not against Clemson.
The Tigers will return 18 starters on a team that will arguably have more talent than any other to grace the upstate in the last 20 years. And Georgia and Florida? If you are a South Carolina fan, you don't even want to peek at their returning starters next year ... players like Moreno, Stafford, Tebow highlight a group of Heisman Trophy candidates that is nothing short of scary.
And what about recruiting you ask? Surely the old ball coach can parlay past championships in Gainesville into recruiting success in Columbia. Right?
Not so fast.
Last year's No. 7 ranked class is more than a distant memory. The Gamecocks have 18 players committed in their 2008 class, a group that ranks 41st and likely won't finish within the top 25 schools in the country by signing day, even with a strong finish.
And it extends far beyond that.
Clemson consistently has the edge with in-state recruiting because Bowden, and most of his top recruiters, were in place before Lou Holtz realized he was losing control of his program. The recruits, such as the nation's No. 1 defensive end, Bamberg's DaQuan Bowers, have known where they've wanted to go before Spurrier could say "cock-and-sputter."
And no, this isn't a discussion on which conference is better- the ACC or SEC. The answer to that so-called "debate" is obvious. It's the SEC. From top to bottom the league offers more talent, better teams, better coaches, even better game day atmospheres.
This is a statement on the direction of programs. One is sitting at home wondering what happened to its over-inflated No. 6 national ranking halfway through the season before laying a Navy-like egg at home to Vanderbilt, while the other is poised to play on national television on New Year's Eve against nationally ranked Auburn.
Spurrier told more than one recruit his team would never lose to Clemson again as the head coach at South Carolina after his team beat the Tigers last year in Death Valley. He was wrong.
Spurrier proclaimed at the beginning of the 2007 season his team was ready to compete for an SEC championship. He was wrong again.
And in 2008, he'll turn to a redshirt freshman quarterback who has already had more run-ins with authorities than passes attempted on the field- against a schedule that features Georgia, LSU, Tennessee, Arkansas, at Florida and at Clemson.
Good luck, Steve.
You know, old Corso said it was would be hard.
"They play in the toughest division in the toughest league in the country. I don't think Spurrier wins the SEC or the National Title. I don't care if he coaches here 400 years," he said back on that summer day in Columbia, just hours before South Carolina took to the field to face Central Florida in 2005.
He didn't know how right he was.
COMMENTARY: Corso was Right
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