After taking it in the shorts Saturday night against the Gamecocks in Death Valley, some of the Clemson faithful are already warming up the homer-sphere with talk of a possible bowl rematch against their arch-rivals from the Capital City.
While most experts don't seem to think the hype has any real merit (and, let's be honest here, for the rest of the country this rematch would be about as compelling as playing tic-tac-toe on a Coleco), the more intriguing question is—why?
South Carolina's 27 to 17 win over Clemson in front of an ocean of orange and purple was a more dominating performance than the final score would indicate. The Gamecocks only allowed three points in the entire second half, and Clemson's supposedly high-energy offense was held to a modest 183 yards through the air.
"When we play Clemson, they don't seem to play very well," quipped Spurrier at the conclusion of the game. (Some of the Ol' Ball Coach's jabs would be almost Taoist in their pseudo-profundity were it not for the fact that they're coming out of Spurrier.) In essence, Clemson looked like a team that, well, plays an ACC schedule every year.
So why would Clemson nation crave a second helping? Delusion? Good ol' fashioned masochism?
Freud speaks of a "death drive," but I think there's something even more fundamental going on here. As Clemson fans never tire of reminding anyone who'll listen, the wins between the two rivals stand at Clemson's 65 to Carolina's 41. Yeah, it's a lopsided record, but it's not like Notre Dame-Navy (71-12) or Oklahoma-Iowa State (69-5).
What's really at work here is a flaw in the Tigers' mindset: they want a rematch with South Carolina because they think they will win.
Clemson is an interesting institution. It's in the South, but it tends to think of itself as not of the South. Consider its much-ballyhooed (and ultimately failed) attempt to become a top-20 public institution just a few years ago (not an easy thing to do, no matter how superficial and mostly baseless the perennial US News rankings are).
A lot of schools are caught up in the rankings-frenzy these days, but few (if any) have made it the kind of single-minded pursuit Clemson President James F. Barker has for the last decade or so. (All the while pricing themselves out of reach for many South Carolinians in one of the poorest states in the U.S.) In short, Clemson is better than you, even when, you know, it's not.
So it should come as no surprise that Clemson thinks it'll win in the unlikely event that a rematch with the Gamecocks becomes a reality. What happened last night was a fluke, a misstep, a slip-up on the order of losing your keys or leaving your ATM receipt sticking out of the machine. Clemson will win because it's Clemson, or so the tautology goes.
Anyone who studies this game knows that the Clemson program is in trouble as long as it remains affiliated with the ACC. Just like its ill-fated drive to become a top-shelf university, it wants desperately to be a well-regarded academic institution that also plays really, really good football on a national level.
But this is a hard thing to do, and only a few rare schools have received such an honor in the public imagination: Notre Dame, Penn State (before the fall), Stanford and Michigan. It's a pretty exclusive club.
So, while we wait out the next few weeks of conference championships and pointless bowl games (hey, Toledo versus Utah State! Anyone? Anyone?), we'll see how everything pans out. Meanwhile, Clemson fans will likely have to wait until Fall camp to convince everyone they're better than you.