Gamecocks, Tigers square off for state championship

palmettobowlClemson and South Carolina recently came together to agree on one thing; their historic football rivalry needed an official nickname. The gridiron enemies put their stamps of approval on the “Palmetto Bowl”, the two coaches just call it the state championship game.

The Tigers (10-1, 7-1 ACC) will host the arch-rival Gamecocks (6-5, 3-5 SEC) on Saturday in a matchup that might seem meaningless to outsiders. Clemson has wrapped up a trip to the ACC Championship Game and South Carolina has clinched a bowl bid, so there’s little else to play for unless you understand the value of a year’s worth of state bragging rights.

“It really doesn’t matter what the records are and all that type of stuff,” said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, who refers to the Tigers’ annual game against South Carolina as “a season of its own” in addition to the state title showdown. “When you get into these rivalry-type games, it’s a lot of emotion and anything that can happen, so we know that we have to play very well.”

Last year at this time Clemson was headed to the ACC and National Championship games, while the Gamecocks were seemingly sleepwalking through a losing season and the uncertainty of their future head coach hanging over their heads. Still, the Tigers escaped Columbia with a 37-32 victory inĀ  hard-fought finale. First-year Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp was aware of the rivalry before he arrived in Columbia just under one year ago, but he quickly found out about the intensity level.

“Walking by people talking about beating Clemson, you hear that very quickly, and you understand the importance of the game,” he said. “We talk about winning our state all the time, whether it’s recruiting or on the field, whatever we need to do.”

The Palmetto Bowl trophy will be up for grabs before a national television audience on ESPN and an expected sellout crowd of 83,000 at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

Photo courtesy of USC Athletics

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