A point by point prediction for the first Palmetto Bowl

uscfoot-clemlineofscrimmageIt’s the 112th installment of the Clemson-South Carolina football rivalry, but the first in the Palmetto Bowl, which both schools agreed to officially name the game this season.

That’s how divided the two sides really are. It took more than a century to agree to a name for the football game. But no matter what you call it, the annual football showdown between Clemson and South Carolina is the biggest event in the state.

Picking a winner can not only be hard, but also hazardous to your health. Friends, neighbors, co-workers and even married couples get along just fine 364 days a year but become bitter enemies on game day.

So we’ve decided to use a little scientific scoring method to predict this year’s winner. In a head-to-head matchup of key criteria, each team is awarded either a field goal for a narrow victory or a touchdown for a big edge in each category. May the best team win … and rub it in for the next year:

* Teams: Neither side has much to boast about this season, at least not by recent standards. In a way, that makes this year’s matchup even more meaningful since neither squad is in the running for anything more important than state bragging rights. Clemson has looked woeful in the second half of big games, but the Gamecocks have blown big leads to lose to lesser teams, so Clemson gets the edge in this one. … Clemson 7, South Carolina 0.

* Coaches: Both have engaged in some good-natured ribbing, which makes the matchup more exciting for the fans. But it’s what happens between the lines that matters, and the wily veteran Steve Spurrier coaches circles around the young Dabo Swinney, as evident by the Gamecocks’ five-game winning streak. Look for the head ball coach to have a few tricks up his sleeve for Dabo. … South Carolina 7, Clemson 7.

* Stadiums: Both schools rank among the best venues in their conferences, if not the nation. But as nice as Williams-Brice Stadium is, Clemson’s Memorial Stadium gets the edge. The bowl design, including the famous hill where the Tigers run down and rub Howard’s Rock, is a picture perfect location for college football. Besides, it’s where this year’s game is being played, so advantage Clemson. … Clemson 10, South Carolina 7.

* Conferences: This one is a no-brainer, at least when it comes to college football. South Carolina plays in the SEC, the top football league in the country. Clemson plays in the ACC, which aside from Florida State is just looking forward to the start of basketball season. The tougher league means tougher competition and better preparation for the big game. Again, aside from FSU, the Tigers’ toughest foe was Georgia, which blasted the Tigers but lost to the Gamecocks. … South Carolina 14, Clemson 10.

* Tradition: This one isn’t close either, although the Gamecocks have started to gain ground in recent years. Clemson dominates the all-time series 65-42-4, but South Carolina has rattled off five straight to close the gap. Still, the Tigers have BCS bowls, conference titles and even a national championship as a program, while the Gamecocks have only one league title (ACC in 1969) and a handful of bowl wins to show for a century-plus of football. … Clemson 17, South Carolina 14.

* Tailgating: What does this have to do with the game? If you have to ask, then you’ve never been to the pre-game parties at these schools. Clemson has a scenic spot in the hills and beside Lake Hartwell amid lots of orange-colored leaves and fans. But the Gamecocks’ have a centralized spot at the state fairgrounds where 80,000 plus go to party, plus the famed Cockaboose train cars. Plus, the Tiger Burn is one of the best pre-game parties in college football … South Carolina 17, Clemson 17.

* Fans: This is a tough one. Both are die-hard fans who stick by their teams win or lose, although Gamecock fans have had to deal a lot more with the latter. The key difference: Tigers fans love to brag about how they beat you, while Gamecock fans like to remind you about how they “almost” beat you. … Clemson 20, South Carolina 17.

* Mascots: South Carolina has one of the most original mascots in college sports – the dreaded fighting rooster, while Clemson has the most common nickname in college sports. Still, in an actual showdown between a Tiger and Gamecock, it’s nothing but flying feathers and a bucket of KFC for Clemson. … Clemson 23, South Carolina 17.

* Trends: In the 112-year history of this series, this is the first time that no member of the South Carolina team has ever lost to Clemson, and no members of Clemson have ever beaten the Gamecocks. That fact breeds a mentality among the guys on the field (you know, the ones who really decide the outcome instead of some stupid list) and the Gamecocks have a huge mental edge in that department. … FINAL SCORE: South Carolina 24, Clemson 23.

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