South Carolina's Hayden Hurst can't hang on to the ball while defended by the Citadel's Shy Phillips during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015, in Columbia, S.C. Citadel won 23-22. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)
Richard Shiro
November 23, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) Things have changed quickly in the Clemson-South Carolina rivalry.

It was only two years ago the Gamecocks and coach Steve Spurrier joyously celebrated a fifth straight win over the Tigers, a streak so odious to Clemson fans that more than a few wondered if coach Dabo Swinney was the man for the job.

Now, it's Swinney on top, leading the nation's No. 1 team into Saturday's last game with South Carolina (3-8) and into a likely College Football Playoff berth.

Spurrier? The only glimpse fans at Williams-Brice Stadium will get of him is on the 80-foot poster outside the arena.

Spurrier resigned in October, leaving a South Carolina team that won 11 games three straight seasons from 2011-13, but now has struggled to find its footing under interim coach Shawn Elliott.

The low point so far came Saturday, the Gamecocks falling to FCS opponent Citadel 23-22 - the first Southeastern Conference team to lose to a lower division foe since 2010.

''This is probably the lowest our team has been in the locker room,'' Gamecocks receiver Pharoh Cooper said.

There's a chance things could get worse with how Clemson (11-0, No. 1 CFP) is rolling.

The Tigers had a seventh straight game with 500 yards of offense, a program first. Quarterback Deshaun Watson has ascended up the Heisman Trophy contender rankings and put on another dazzling display in a 33-13 win over Wake Forest that wrapped up the Tigers' first-ever 8-0 Atlantic Coast Conference season.

Watson, who played with a torn ACL when Clemson snapped the five-game streak to South Carolina last fall, will not discount the Gamecocks' intensity and desire simply because of the Citadel loss.

''It's the same way as if they were 11-0 just like us,'' Watson said. ''It's a rivalry and we know they're going to give their all.''

That's difficult for some South Carolina supporters to accept.

The Gamecocks opened the Elliott era with a satisfying 19-10 home win over Vanderbilt, but have fallen short since in losing four straight. The team appeared to show improvement and fight as it closed the SEC season with losses by a combined 20 points to Texas A&M, Tennessee and Florida. Things fell apart in distressing fashion against the Citadel.

More disheartening for the Gamecocks and their fans was the miracle touchdown to Cooper, a 94-yard strike on fourth down with less than a minute left, that was overruled because of a false start penalty.

Many wearing garnet and black in the crowd - and perhaps on the sideline - might be ready to move on to Spurrier's permanent replacement.

Not Elliott, not yet.

''This is going to be a fun week,'' he said Sunday. ''It's going to give us a chance to get a lot of things off our minds.''

There's one thing on Clemson's mind - keep chalking up victories. A win over South Carolina would complete the Tigers' first undefeated regular-season since 1981. With Ohio State's loss, Clemson has the country's longest win streak at 14 games.

Clemson's high-powered offense is ranked 14th nationally and the South Carolina defense is 89th in the FBS, leading many to expect an epic blowout even more lopsided 2003's 63-17 Tigers win revered or reviled - depending on which side of the aisle you're on - in rivalry history.

For Swinney, it's about ending a three-game losing streak at Williams-Brice.

''We've had some great games with them, but we haven't done a good job,'' Swinney said. ''We are going to have to do a good job this week.''

The Tigers see the Gamecocks as a pit stop on the way to bigger things. They'll face North Carolina for the Atlantic Coast Conference championship on Dec. 5 and then, if successful, await their berth in the playoffs.

''I went in there and talked to the players and said, `We may not always be perfect, we make mistakes, but we win,''' Swinney said. ''To win 20 out of 21 and 14 in a row, it speaks volume for the type of guys we have, but also for the kind of culture that we have created.''


Associated Press writer Jeffrey Collins contributed to this report.

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