Streak will continue until Swinney puts emphasis on rivalry

tylerWatkinsRoamingFor the last few years during the ACC Football Media Day, I’ve asked Dabo Swinney and his designated players the same question, “How important is winning the South Carolina game?”

I started asking the question after his second straight loss to the Gamecocks, and I was really doing it because I wanted to egg him on a bit.  Sure, it’s unprofessional, I know. But, I couldn’t help myself. The question usually went something like this, “Coach, can you talk about how it feels to lose two straight to the Gamecocks? Also, how important is it to win that game?”

I did want to get a quote of his thoughts, but I just had to throw in the two straight part.

Swinney answered the question that first year with standard coach speak. He said something to the effect that all games were important and they didn’t treat any game different from any other. They prepare for them all the same, and winning that game is important, just like winning all of them is important.

I had already asked the two designated Clemson players and they blew the question off like it wasn’t a big deal to win the game. Of course, I should have expected that answer since they had already lost two in a row to the Gamecocks.

But, I was shocked at the seemingly disregarded importance of the game for the fan base. Of course, later that year the Tigers lost their third in a row to South Carolina. Most people commented that perhaps Clemson was more worried about the ACC Championship game they would play in and win a week later.

Year after year, I’ve asked the question at the pre-season media day, and the same answer returns, it’s just not overly important to Coach Swinney, and in most cases to his players. Occasionally, you’ll get a player in front of you that played high school ball in South Carolina and they get it. But, for the others, it’s just another game during the season.

It’s been five straight now. I can’t imagine that the answer will change when I ask the question in July, 2014 at media day, or 2015, or 2016. I include those years because it seems very likely that the streak will continue. In the same way that North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams doesn’t care if he wins the ACC Tournament, Dabo Sweeney doesn’t care if he wins the Palmetto Classic. It’s just another game.

This could work in favor of the Clemson faithful. Swinney sees himself as a national championship-caliber coach, and that’s what he’s after. The rivalry game is nice, but he wants the big one. You probably already see the flaw in this thinking, right? He can’t win that national trophy without beating the Gamecocks, at least not under the current system.

The other problem, of course, is that Clemson plays in the ACC. South Carolina is forced to face tough competition week in and week out, usually leaving the week before Clemson open, or facing a cupcake. Clemson faces a slew of mediocre to above average teams, but certainly not SEC level teams. They just aren’t prepared for the Gamecocks.

In the post game press conference, Steve Spurrier said, “I started thinking, amazingly, when we play these guys from Clemson, the script follows the same thing.”

For the last five years, the script has indeed read like the movie “Groundhog Day”. Five wins in a row, it’s never been done before by either team, and until Swinney gets it like his fan base does, South Carolina fans can start thinking about ways to creatively flash the number six in photos.

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