COLUMBIA, S.C. — One of the main goals South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier wants to achieve is out the hands of the No. 10 Gamecocks.
"If you ask me whether I’d win the SEC Championship or beat Clemson, I’d rather win the SEC Championship if I had a choice," Spurrier said.
But he doesn’t have that choice.
While his Gamecocks take on No. 6 Clemson, Missouri will be playing 19th-ranked Texas A&M. If No. 5 Missouri wins, the Tigers are in the Southeastern Conference title game. Missouri needs to lose for South Carolina to get in its second SEC championship game.
"We have no control over that game. After we play ours here, some of you guys in here will tell me what happened, probably," Spurrier said.
It is an unprecedented distraction in this rivalry game. Clemson and South Carolina have surged into national prominence in the last few seasons, and Saturday’s game is the first time both teams have been in the top 10 when they have played.
The Gamecocks have a four-game winning streak in the series, which has only happened one other time in the 1950s. They also have a 17-game home winning streak, and senior quarterback Connor Shaw has never lost a game he started in Williams-Brice Stadium.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney won’t argue that South Carolina has the momentum in the rivalry and doesn’t buy that the Gamecocks will be distracted easily.
"If you think they’re going to give up a 17-game home winning streak on Senior Day very easily, I’ve got some swamp land in Florida for you," Swinney said.
The Gamecocks faced a similar situation two weeks ago, kicking off against Florida while Georgia and Auburn finished their game. The Bulldogs lost, putting South Carolina in position to win the SEC East. The school showed the end of the Auburn-Georgia game on the giant screen at Williams-Brice during timeouts, and the Gamecocks promptly fell behind 14-0 before coming back to beat the Gators 19-14.
Spurrier said it doesn’t matter to him what they do in the stadium Saturday night with the Missouri game.
"Obviously nowadays, anyone who wants to know the score of that game can find it. Cellphones, Blackberry — or they can ask somebody next to them, ‘Hey, what’s the score? What’s Missouri doing?’ They’ll know," Spurrier said. "But again, it’s not going to help us one way or another to know. All of our thoughts are on the game right here."
Spurrier can take a more relaxed approach to this week’s game because his fans are happy. South Carolina is usually on the losing end of this rivalry. Even with the four-game winning streak, the Gamecocks trail in the series 65-41-4. Meanwhile, at Clemson there is a whole group of seniors, including quarterback Tajh Boyd, who have never defeated their biggest rival.
Boyd was more serious than usual talking to reporters this week. He has struggled against the Gamecocks, throwing for just 339 yards over 10 quarters in the three games and being sacked 14 times.
"There’s a respect in the whole deal that we’re trying to gain," Boyd said.
Spurrier has that respect, even if he hasn’t accomplished the goal he set out when he was hired at the end of 2004 to bring the first SEC title in school history to South Carolina. Over the years, Spurrier has left little doubt of what is most important, removing "Beat Clemson" signs from around the stadium as he emphasized SEC play.
"We’ve beaten Clemson before. We’ve never won an SEC championship," Spurrier said. "If we had never beaten Clemson, I’d probably want to beat Clemson."