The battle for in-state supremacy between the Clemson football program and South Carolina’s rages on, and now the national media has decided to pop its head in and throw some fuel on the fire. Fortunately, the Gamecocks were the only team to get scorched.
ESPN and CBS Sports both conducted polls recently to rank the major programs in college football based on predicted success in the near future. In both cases, the Clemson Tigers were deemed to be a better choice than South Carolina.
First, CBS Sports put together a draft-style poll, where seven writers took turns selecting teams that they would want in their hypothetical conferences. Jon Soloman took Clemson with the 17th pick, and offered an explanation that almost seemed designed stoke the flames.
This was a toss-up between Clemson and South Carolina. If I was picking solely based on now, I’d go Gamecocks. But Clemson has the far better history and Spurrier won’t coach forever. Also, this follows my strategy of picking lower-round teams that have to win fewer tough games than SEC teams to make the playoff. If they beat Florida State, the Tigers have a better shot at the playoff than the Gamecocks have of surviving the SEC.
The Gamecocks ended up being selected 22nd, by Jeremy Fowler.
ESPN Insider added to the debate Wednesday, when they released their “CFB Future Power Ratings.” Insiders can check that out but, for everyone else, Aaron Brenner at The Post and Courier has the details. Brenner described the formula used, which sounds slightly less subjective than the method CBS Sports employed.
The formula broke down by assessing coaching (27.5 percent of the points), current talent (27.5 percent), program power (20 percent), recruiting (15 percent) and title path (10 percent), each on a 1-10 scale.
The Tigers landed at No. 11 on the list, while the Gamecocks came in at No. 18.
It probably won’t be surprising that the humble editor of Rubbing the Rock agrees that the future looks brighter for Clemson than it does for South Carolina. Sure, the Gamecocks have had the Tigers’ number in recent years, but individual games—even between rivals—are just a tiny part of the puzzle. When it comes to future success, Clemson seems to be in a much better position to win big.
As Jon Soloman pointed out, the fact that the Tigers don’t have to contend with an SEC schedule is a tremendous help. The fact is, as good as the Gamecocks have been in recent years, they have been unable to win the SEC, and they never managed to reach a BCS Bowl. Playing in the best conference in football can be helpful in some ways, but it can also hold you back if you are not good enough to win it. And the Gamecocks simply have not measured up to the level of Alabama, Auburn, or Florida over the last decade or so.
Clemson, on the other hand, plays in a league that is tough enough that strength of schedule isn’t likely to hurt them, but they still have an easier path to the new College Football Playoff. Most years, if Clemson can get by Florida State, they can cruise into the ACC Championship and likely be the favorite to win it. South Carolina, while playing in the weaker half of the SEC, still has to get past Georgia, Florida, and Missouri to get to the SEC Championship. And once there, they would probably end up playing Alabama, Auburn, or LSU.
But the big reason for my feeling of optimism about Clemson’s future is Dabo Swinney. South Carolina has never really been close to as good as they are right now, and their success seems to hinge on the presence of Steve Spurrier. But Spurrier isn’t going to be around forever. He may be out of the game within five years, while Swinney could still be at Clemson in a couple decades.
And while the SEC is a stronger conference than the ACC right now, Clemson enjoys many of the same advantages that South Carolina derives from playing in the SEC. Clemson’s recruiting footprint is similar, with regular trips to Florida and Georgia as part of their ACC slate helping considerably. The ACC’s expansion has also provided it with one advantage that the SEC does not have—a foothold in the Northeast television market.
While you probably won’t see the Tigers recruiting New York very hard any time soon–though New Jersey and Pennsylvania are both worth a look–the kind of media exposure the league could eventually receive with their footprint firmly embedded in those markets could help Clemson to recruit nationally. And the fact that the Tigers have a more direct path to the new College Football Playoff and high-level bowl games will only add to that. That is the kind of national exposure that South Carolina just doesn’t get right now, because they can’t navigate through the SEC well enough to make it to those games.
Ultimately, the difference between the two programs may be that South Carolina will remain a primarily regional power, while Clemson becomes a national force. The present looks pretty good for both programs but the future definitely looks a bit brighter for Clemson.