ACC: Steve Spurrier

Steve Spurrier, Dabo SwinneyJoshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY SportsSteve Spurrier and Dabo Swinney are keeping the South Carolina-Clemson rivalry interesting.

Is there any way to get a television show featuring Steve Spurrier and Dabo Swinney dropping one-liners on each other one after another?

Because right now, they have got the best two-man show going in all of college football. Want to stir the pot a little? Ask Spurrier what he thinks of Clemson. Ask Swinney what he thinks about Spurrier.

Ready ... set ... talk trash!

Who knew Spurrier and Swinney would become such a perfect match?

In an era when most coaches are too buttoned up and PC to speak in anything other than clichés, Spurrier and Swinney have honed their barb-jabbing skills, taking them to new heights every time they deliver a sound bite.

Spurrier, of course, has had years and years of experience dishing out one-liners. But he never had anybody to dish them right back. Phillip Fulmer? He fumed. Bobby Bowden? He shrugged.

Swinney? Completely unafraid to dish right back, putting an entirely different spin on the Clemson-South Carolina rivalry. Spurrier wants to talk championships, so he does. “Hey, these two Capital One Bowls in a row are pretty nice, but that state championship ain’t bad either,” he said after the Capital One Bowl win in January.

Swinney responded in kind after beating Ohio State in the Discover Orange Bowl, "We’re the first team from South Carolina to ever win a BCS bowl."

The "real" Death Valley? Spurrier knows where it is. Baton Rouge, right? "Most of our guys have never been to Death Valley," Spurrier said in 2012. “That is the Death Valley, isn’t it? Or is there another one around?"

Swinney responded in kind, "I can see where he might have a little confusion. Our guys have never been to USC. California's a long way from here. ... Got two Death Valleys and two USCs, but there's only one real one."

Swinney wants to talk philosophically, as in Dabo is from Mars, Steve is from Pluto? Well, wouldn’t you know it -- Spurrier knows a thing or two about planets. Leave it to these two to make college football fans Google “Is Pluto still a planet?”

The repartee works because Swinney and Spurrier know how to make it work. Both are incredibly gifted speakers with the ability to think on their feet rather quickly. Both know how to take a joke. Both coaches have a certain type of gumption, too. After all, Swinney has lost five straight games to Spurrier. But that does not stop him from plugging away. How many other coaches would keep on delivering the blows despite mounting losses to their bitter rival?

One in particular comes to mind. A man who went 5-8-1 against another rival in another era, with zero road wins.

You might find him on Pluto somewhere.
CLEMSON, S.C. -- By just about any standard, it has been a defining run for Dabo Swinney and Clemson.

The Tigers have won 32 games over the last three seasons, winning an ACC championship and a BCS bowl game and recording a pair of top-10 finishes in the polls along the way.

Not since 1990 had Clemson won 10 games in a season, but the Tigers have reached that plateau each of the last three seasons, including 11 wins each of the last two. With nine wins in 2014, this senior class could become the winningest class in school history.

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins and Tajh Boyd
Chris Trotman/Getty ImagesDabo Swinney and Clemson have had a lot to smile about in recent seasons.
The Tigers have also collected eight wins over nationally ranked foes during the last three seasons. For perspective, Florida State and Ohio State each have seven, Georgia six and Texas three during that span.

So when you start talking about some of the most resurgent programs in college football, make sure Clemson is near the top of that list.

Now, to suggest that Death Valley was ever truly dead would be a stretch. But what isn’t a stretch is that Swinney has pumped the kind of life and energy back into Clemson football that has the people in these parts dreaming big again.

“We have higher expectations every year,” said Clemson All-American defensive end Vic Beasley, who is part of what should be one of the deepest defensive lines in college football. “There’s still another step, and everybody knows what that step is -- winning a national championship.”

Of course, before the Tigers can think national championship, they need to figure out a way to win their state championship.

That’s really been the only rub under Swinney, who is entering his sixth full season as Clemson’s coach.

He has lost his last five games to South Carolina, Clemson’s longest losing streak in series history, and it hasn’t helped that the guy on the other end of those beatings, coach Steve Spurrier, has reveled in twisting the proverbial knife.

Anybody who really knows Spurrier knows it’s not personal. That’s just the way the Head Ball Coach rolls. Always has and always will.

Swinney, to his credit, doesn’t take it personally, but that hasn’t made these last five losses to the Gamecocks any less nauseating, especially when Clemson has pretty much owned every other SEC team it has faced.

“He is who he is. Coach Spurrier has been that way forever. It’s not like it’s just me he gets after, so at least he’s consistent,” said Swinney, whose six wins over SEC teams since becoming Clemson’s head coach in the middle of the 2008 season are the most in the nation among non-SEC coaches. “He’s been that way his entire career whether you like him or don’t like him. Sometimes you wish he’d just let the focus stay on the players and the game and maybe not keep it stirred up.

“But the best thing we can do is start beating them.”

Swinney’s lone win over South Carolina came after taking over for Tommy Bowden midway through the 2008 season, but nobody on the current Clemson roster has ever beaten the Gamecocks.

And not that anybody needs to be reminded, but there are clocks strategically placed in the Clemson football complex counting down the minutes to Nov. 29 when South Carolina pays a visit to Death Valley.

“It’s really frustrating for us, especially for me and a lot of the guys who were raised in South Carolina,” Clemson senior receiver Adam Humphries said. “We know what it means to our fans and what it means to our football team. If we want to get to that main goal of a national championship, we’ve got to win that game. It’s so vital to where we stand at the end of the season.

“You can’t get away from it in this state. Each year, we feel like we have the better team, but we just slip up with turnovers and a few plays here and there that cost you ballgames.”

A year ago, Clemson turned it over six times in a 31-17 loss to South Carolina yet still went into the fourth quarter with a chance to win.

“I go back and look at that game and examine how did we physically play, and to be honest with you, if you just graded it out, we won in every phase of the game,” Swinney said. “We lost on the scoreboard. We outrushed them, outpassed them, outdefended them. We did everything. But you can’t win when you have that many turnovers.”

It was a similar story against Florida State last season. The Tigers turned it over four times against the Seminoles and never had a chance in a 51-14 blowout loss at home.

In their two losses a year ago, the Tigers were on the wrong side of a 10-1 turnover margin.

Senior defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said it gets down to playing their best in their biggest games.

“We’re 22-0 against everybody else except Florida State and South Carolina the last two years,” Jarrett said. “For us to get where we want to be, we’ve got to beat Florida State and South Carolina. When you’re playing against top-five teams, you’ve got to play your best game. That’s what everybody walking on that field needs to understand, that it’s going to take our best game.”

[+] EnlargeDabo Swinney, Steve Spurrier
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesLosing rivalry games has been the one negative during Swinney's tenure at Clemson.
Swinney doesn’t buy into the notion that it’s become mental with South Carolina. To his point, Clemson more than held its own in the line of scrimmage last season.

Spurrier even told Swinney when they bumped into each other on the recruiting trail this offseason that the only thing the Gamecocks could muster against the Clemson front was Connor Shaw running the quarterback draw.

“I think you have to give them some dadgum credit,” Swinney said. “Everybody wants to just say that you’re losing to your rival all the time. But how about the fact that, ‘Yeah, we’ve been a top-10 team, but so have they.’ We finished seventh, and they finished fourth. They have been a great football team the last few years. Coach Spurrier and his staff have done an unbelievable job. I hate it, but I’ve got to look beyond the rivalry and evaluate everything.

“You’re not only talking about a rival game, but you’re trying to beat a top-five team in the country along the way. When you play top-five teams, those games are hard to win. But we feel like we are a top-10 team here at Clemson, and we’ve got to become that top-five team. That’s kind of the next step for us. So you evaluate everything you’re doing, what you’re doing and how you prepare, and you’ve got to give them credit. They had a quarterback down there [Shaw] who was special and was a great winner. A couple of years they were just better than us. There’s no question about that. But I don’t think they were better than us the last couple of years. They just won that day. They earned it and performed better on that day.”

The dynamic of the Clemson-South Carolina rivalry has also changed and raised the stakes.

“Used to be, outside of this state, nobody really paid much attention to Clemson-South Carolina because Clemson pretty much dominated,” Swinney said. “South Carolina was never really a factor from a national standpoint. Clemson was here and there and had some good runs, especially in the '80s when they won the championship. Now, this rivalry has become much more of a national game because it has national implications of BCS bowls, top-10 rankings, and that has never been the case in this rivalry.

“It’s just a different time, and it happens to be my time to be at Clemson. But it’s going to turn back, no question. We’ll get it turned back.”

This rivalry now belongs to Gamecocks

December, 1, 2013

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Everywhere you looked late Saturday night in Williams-Brice Stadium, they were holding up five fingers.

Well, at least everywhere but the Clemson sideline.

The script in this Palmetto State rivalry has become as predictable as Charlie Brown having the football pulled out from under him every Thanksgiving.

[+] EnlargeConnor Shaw
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesSouth Carolina QB Connor Shaw threw for 152 yards and rushed for 94 yards in the win over the Tigers. Shaw has 20 passing touchdowns and one interception this season.
Only the roles have reversed.

South Carolina won its fifth in a row over Clemson, 31-17, in a game that could have been a carbon copy in a lot of ways of the previous four.

The Gamecocks didn’t turn it over a single time. The Tigers turned it over six times. The Gamecocks made key plays. The Tigers made critical mistakes.

The Gamecocks turned up the pressure on Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd and sacked him five times. That’s 16 times in the last three games in this series that Boyd has been sacked.

The Tigers wilted under the pressure and will have another entire year to explain how they can play so well much of the season, and yet, so crummy when they meet up with their arch-rivals the final weekend of the regular season.

“They’ve got a good team, but continue to not play very well when they play us for some reason,” said South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, doing his best to play nice after becoming the first coach in South Carolina history to win five in a row over Clemson.

Of course, the Head Ball Coach just continues to rack up firsts at South Carolina.

The Gamecocks (10-2) have now won 10 or more games in three consecutive seasons. Before Spurrier arrived in 2005, they’d won 10 or more games in a season only once in school history.

“I was thinking back to all the teams I’ve had, and these guys may have achieved the most for such a young bunch of guys that haven’t played all that much and don’t have that much experience,” Spurrier said.

The only bummer for the No. 10 Gamecocks was that they didn’t get the help they were looking for Saturday night out of Columbia West. Missouri held off Texas A&M 28-21 at home to win the Eastern Division title and will face Auburn next Saturday in the SEC championship game.

“We’re still going to celebrate,” South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney said. “A lot of us grew up in this state and know what this rivalry is about. No matter what happens, I can always say that I don’t know what it feels like to lose to Clemson because I never have and never will.”

For the No. 6 Tigers (10-2), it was a bitter pill to swallow. They’ve specialized in lighting up scoreboards, but haven’t scored more than 17 points in any of the their last five losses to the Gamecocks.

“We are playing a top-10 team, and every year, we have lost the turnover margin,” said Boyd, who was intercepted twice and lost a fumble. “Ultimately, I think that sums up the story every year.”

[+] EnlargeTajh Boyd
AP Photo/Rainier EhrhardtClemson signal-caller Tajh Boyd threw for 225 yards but had two interceptions vs. South Carolina.
The South Carolina players view it a little differently.

Senior quarterback Connor Shaw, who finished his career 17-0 as a starter at home, suggested that it’s not just a coincidence that the Tigers seem to stink it up every year in this game.

“It’s like blood in the water when we play these guys,” said Shaw, who threw a touchdown pass and rushed for a touchdown. “We have respect for them, and they’re a good team. But I don’t know how they would do if they had to play in our league, just the grind of the SEC.

"We’ve played better teams than them this year. That’s just how we feel.”

Clowney, who said in the preseason that he could tell Boyd was scared when the Gamecocks faced him, wasn’t backing down from those comments after seeing Boyd struggle once again.

“Every year, we talk about the same thing when we talk about them,” Clowney said. “We watch them play other teams, [and] nobody is really putting a lot of pressure on him. We know that we can get to him, contain him and add pressure. Once we hit him a few times, he starts getting the jitters a little bit and starts throwing crazy balls.

“That’s what he did tonight. We got the interceptions off those, and it worked out in our favor.”

But, then, that’s becoming the norm in this rivalry for the Gamecocks. Everything seems to work out in their favor.

“It’s just special for this program and for all the players on this team to know that we've never lost to Clemson,” Shaw said. “That’s something that nobody can ever take away from you.”

ACC's lunch links

November, 27, 2013
Gobble gobble ...

ACC Saturday setup: Week 12

November, 16, 2013
Here is one more look at what awaits us today in the ACC:

NC State (3-6, 0-6) at Boston College (5-4, 2-3), 12:30 ET, GamePlan/ESPN3. #NCSTvsBC

What's at stake: It's Senior Day for the Eagles, who not only can triple their win total from a season ago, but clinch bowl eligibility for the first time since 2010. The Wolfpack will need to win out over these last three weeks to achieve that, but they can start by winning league game No. 1 under first-year coach Dave Doeren. They are off to their worst start in ACC play since 1959, when they also went 0-6. They still play East Carolina and Maryland, so who knows what could happen if they go into Alumni Stadium and escape with the victory?

Statistically speaking: Boston College is one of three teams (Georgia Tech and Duke) to score a touchdown on all its drives that had a goal-to-go situations this season (7-for-7).

Quotable: "Well, what means the world to us is our seniors really want to leave a legacy of bringing the program back. This is a great group of seniors. A group of guys that are totally bought in, totally committed to the program, to our staff, really playing some of their best football right now. This is very, very important to them. So I want to see that so badly for them. They want to leave that legacy." -- BC coach Steve Addazio on potential bowl eligibility

North Carolina (4-5, 3-3) at Pittsburgh (5-4, 2-3), 12:30 ET, GamePlan/ESPN3. #UNCvsPITT

What's at stake: The Tar Heels are going for their fourth straight win after a 1-5 start and it would put them in great position to get a bowl berth. They have turned the offense over to Marquise Williams since Bryn Renner's season ended with a shoulder injury. The new QB has not disappointed, as he accounted for touchdowns passing, running and receiving last week. Pitt hopes it turned a corner with its upset over Notre Dame last week. The Panthers can clinch bowl eligibility themselves with another win, which would make them 2-for-2 under coach Paul Chryst in reaching the postseason.

Statistically speaking: Despite this being the Panthers' first season in ACC play, they actually played the Tar Heels just four years ago, winning the Meineke Car Care Bowl by a 19-17 margin on a late field goal.

Quotable: "He's a one-man wrecking crew. The guy is all over the place. Paul and his staff have done a great job with him. They'll have him lined up at the left tackle. He's played at right tackle. He's played at the right end, left end. They move him all over the place. They put him in position to make plays. And the guy comes through. For a big guy like that he's quick as a cat now. He can move. He's like a skilled athlete but in a big body. And he's just got a knack and he plays hard. What a great player." -- UNC coach Larry Fedora on Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald

Maryland (5-4, 1-4) at Virginia Tech (7-3, 4-2), 12:30 ET, GamePlan/ESPN3. #MDvsVT

What's at stake: More bowl-eligibility scenarios? Sure. The Terrapins have been in this position the last three weeks, but losses to Wake Forest, Clemson and Syracuse have kept them from clinching. It's Senior Day, meanwhile, for the Hokies, who will look to get a similar performance from Logan Thomas to last week's, and who will be using a place-kicker in Eric Kristensen who made the team in September tryouts. The Hokies need to continue winning and hope that Duke loses if they want to clinch the Coastal Division.

Statistically speaking: Virginia Tech is 30-5 in the ACC in the month of November since 2004, including 28-5 in ACC games.

Quotable: "You know, I'm proud of the football team and coaches. We had two tough losses. Both teams that beat us played great, but it was tough losses. Then going to Miami and trying to beat a team that I think is really, really good. They were ranked last week. To go in there and play as good a football game as we did when our backs were definitely against the wall, then to play the way we did, you know, it's just you have real pride in your football team that they came back like that. But now it's week to week, and we've got to come back and get ready to play this week. If we don't play well this week, Maryland is very capable, and what happened last week doesn't make very much difference at all." — Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer on bouncing back from a two-game losing streak

Syracuse (5-4, 3-2) at No. 2 Florida State (9-0, 7-0), ABC/ESPN2. #CUSEvsFSU

What's at stake: Yes, bowl eligibility factors in this game, too, this time for the Orange in Year 1 in the ACC and under coach Scott Shafer. He helped pull of an upset of similar proportions six years ago as the defensive coordinator at Stanford, which went into USC and came away with a win despite being 40-plus point underdogs. The Seminoles, meanwhile, look to close out ACC play in style. They have already won the Atlantic Division, but a victory today will clinch the program's eighth unbeaten ACC regular season since joining the league in 1992 (and its first since 2000). It will get FSU one step closer to the national title game.

Statistically speaking: Florida State's offense is leading the FBS in points per drive (3.75) and scoring percentage (60.2), defined as the percentage of drives that end in either a touchdown or a field goal. Among all FBS teams over the last 10 seasons, that scoring percentage is tied for the highest.

Quotable: "I think I always felt like stats are for losers. But your stats are better, so that's a good thing. But I think more than anything the physicality, I think they're playing top brand of defensive football. And tackling well. And we need to do that. More than anything, it's that physicality, that's probably the part that I'm most pleased with. They're playing with great attitude and effort and then finishing with tough, hard nosed, physical style tackling, and I think I've seen that from our kids really the whole season. But it's becoming more consistent the last couple of games." -- Syracuse coach Scott Shafer on his team's defensive turnaround in the last two weeks

No. 23 Miami (7-2, 3-2) at Duke (7-2, 3-2), ESPNU/WatchESPN. #MIAvsDUKE

What's at stake: Major Coastal Division implications, for one. If the Hurricanes can snap their two-game winning streak and come away with a win, they will need to win out and have someone beat Virginia Tech in order to win the division. As for the Blue Devils, they got some big help Thursday night from Clemson, which beat Georgia Tech, giving Duke complete control of its own destiny in the Coastal. Win out, and Duke gets its shot at the Seminoles in the ACC title game.

Statistically speaking: Duke snapped a 47-game losing streak against ranked opponents two games ago at Virginia Tech. The last time Duke won consecutive games against ranked opponents came in 1989 under Steve Spurrier.

Quotable: "I think it's huge. The thing that we've done is we've put ourselves in position to be playing in a big game in November, and we've done that two years in a row. You hope lessons learned and opportunities are coming your way that you take advantage of it. But we had a great home crowd a week ago with North Carolina State here, and we're certainly looking forward to the same with Miami coming to town." -- Duke coach David Cutcliffe on the stakes this weekend

ACC's lunchtime links

July, 17, 2013
Almost time for these guys to start camp ...
CLEMSON, S.C. -- There have been some mighty great accomplishments at Clemson the last two years, accomplishments that have placed the Tigers into early preseason national championship talk.

But there is one gaping hole, one accomplishment that has been missing four straight years. You do not need vandals spray painting Tiger paws up in Columbia to know what it is. South Carolina has had the Tigers' number of late. And the folks in Clemson know that has got to change.

"Not beating those guys since I’ve been here, it’s rough," quarterback Tajh Boyd said. "We have to get a win. That’s a while away but again that’s on our mind as well. If we win that game last year, I don’t know where we end up at. Could have been the Sugar Bowl. So after that game, it was a rough loss being that we had the team to win. We just didn’t perform to our level of capabilities. We didn’t come out ready to play. They went out and performed better than us, but I don’t think we played near where we’re capable of."

The turning point in that game happened in the fourth quarter, with Clemson driving for the go-ahead score. Boyd threw an interception and the Gamecocks ended up winning in Death Valley, 27-17. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris believes Boyd would have been a Heisman finalist had he thrown a touchdown pass instead of an interception to lead Clemson to the win.

"Woulda, shoulda couldas," coach Dabo Swinney said. "When the game is over, you've got to live with the results. We know the reality of where we are as a program and we know the reality of that game."

The reality: Getting a win in that game is a driving force, not just for players who have never beaten the Gamecocks, but for Swinney, too. Clemson leads the all-time series, but South Carolina has tied a school record with its four-game winning streak over Clemson.

"There's only two things you can ding us on the last four years. We have not won the national championship and we have not beaten South Carolina," Swinney said. "You have to give South Carolina a little credit. Never ever have they been top 10 in the history of their school. Coach [Steve] Spurrier and his staff have been as good as anybody. It's not like we've gotten beat by a bad football team. This is a team that's been better than us on that day. There’s nothing I can do about it. We have to live with it unfortunately, and trust me I live with it every day. Every day you wake up and put this hat on your head, you gotta deal with the result of that game.

"I grew up in that type of situation and it's no different here. It’s a huge game and it's one of those things we haven't done in four years. I probably don't have the job if we don't beat them when I was interim. That's a major goal. Because if you beat South Carolina, you just beat a top-10 team. This is not an unranked six-, seven-win team. This is a team that's beaten Alabama and everybody across the board, and I give them all the credit. My focus is Clemson, and my focus is getting this team competitive enough to where we've got a chance to win them all. Not just one game. We want to win them all. Nobody is going to be satisfied here until that happens."

ACC power rankings: Week 14

November, 26, 2012
What. A. Bust. It was a disappointing end to a disappointing season for the ACC, as the league went 0-4 against its SEC rivals in the final week of the regular season. Is anyone in the ACC any good? Sure, just not good enough to matter in the BCS standings. Not much has changed in the lineup since last week. Here’s how they stack up against each other heading into the "postseason."

1. Florida State (10-2, 7-1 ACC; LW: No. 1) – Five turnovers and an inability to stop the run doomed the Seminoles in a home loss to their in-state rival, Florida. Quarterback EJ Manuel threw three interceptions, lost a fumble that led to a touchdown, and was left disoriented after a helmet-to-helmet hit that wasn’t called. The Noles have to find a way to put this one behind them and move on to the ACC championship game.

2. Clemson (10-2, 7-1; LW: No. 2) – Same story, different season. For the fourth straight year, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney lost to in-state rival Steve Spurrier, who became the winningest coach in South Carolina history Saturday. The loss more than likely ended any hopes of having two BCS bowl teams for the second straight year.

3. Miami (7-5, 5-3; LW: No. 3) – The Hurricanes made it clear they didn’t quit despite their self-imposed bowl ban and finished on a positive note with a 52-45 win at Duke. The best team in the Coastal Division is ineligible, and it’s not North Carolina.

4. Georgia Tech (6-6, 5-3; LW: No. 4) – The Yellow Jackets were steamrolled by rival Georgia in a 42-10 loss and will now play Florida State on Saturday for the ACC championship. Paul Johnson knows his defense will have to play its best game of the season in order to pull the upset.

5. North Carolina (8-4, 5-3; LW: No. 5) – The Tar Heels got a scare from Maryland in their regular-season finale, but quarterback Bryn Renner threw a school-record five touchdown passes in a 45-38 come-from-behind win. Overall, it was a successful year in the win column in Larry Fedora’s first season.

6. NC State (7-5, 4-4; LW: No. 7) – The Wolfpack beat Boston College 27-10, but it wasn’t enough for coach Tom O’Brien to keep his job. O’Brien was fired Sunday and will not coach in the bowl game. Offensive coordinator Dana Bible was named interim head coach.

7. Virginia Tech (6-6, 4-4; LW: No. 8) – The Hokies barely slipped by rival Virginia to become bowl eligible for the 20th straight season, winning 17-14 on a field goal with 4 seconds remaining. It was the ninth straight season Virginia Tech beat UVa.

8. Duke (6-6, 3-5; LW: No. 6) – The Blue Devils finished the season with four straight losses, which is why they dropped two spots and they’re ranked behind the Tar Heels despite the head-to-head win. Still, the program is going bowling for the first time since 1994, which still makes it a successful season.

9. Wake Forest (5-7, 3-5; LW: No. 10) – There wasn’t even the faintest hint of an upset here, as the Deacs’ struggles continued in a 55-21 loss to Vanderbilt. The loss meant that Wake Forest failed to become bowl eligible by reaching the six-win mark this year.

10. Virginia (4-8, 2-6; LW: No. 9) – The Cavaliers gave a good effort in Blacksburg, but couldn’t play the role of spoiler against their rivals and left many wondering about Mike London’s use of the clock at the end of the game. It was a long fall from last year’s coach of the year performance.

11. Maryland (4-8, 2-6; LW: No. 11) – If there were an award for relentlessness, Maryland would win it this year. There was no quit in these Terps all year, but a 24-point third quarter was the difference for the Tar Heels. The good news? Maryland finally has time to heal.

12. Boston College (2-10, 1-7; LW: No. 12) – The program hit rock bottom this weekend, as coach Frank Spaziani was fired Sunday after a miserable 2-10 finish that included only one win against an FBS team -- Maryland. Head-to-head results are a bit deceiving here, as even though Maryland lost to the Eagles, they were overall the better team this year -- even with a fifth-string quarterback.
Dabo Swinney and Steve Spurrier have headlined the recent rivalry between Clemson and South Carolina.

So who has the upper-hand?

I debated this topic with SEC blogger Chris Low, writing this about Swinney:
Here is where Swinney has the upper hand: in the championships column. In fact, you could argue that Swinney has done more for the Tigers in a shorter period of time. Clemson goes into its game against South Carolina on Saturday with a higher ranking and a better record.

Chris says of Spurrier:
I realize for ACC fans that this may be a bit too much football talk with basketball season already under way, but comparing Spurrier to Swinney is akin to comparing Augusta National to your standard country club course.

It's on, Chris!

To read our full hot-button post and to vote in our SportsNation poll, click here.

Upset watch: Week 13

November, 20, 2012
The No. 1 game on this list came to fruition last week, as Virginia lost to a North Carolina team determined to redeem itself from a loss to Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets, though, did not lose at home to Duke, and Clemson won a shootout with NC State. This is the final chance at an upset during the regular season.

ACC fans better hope No. 1 comes true ...

1. No. 4 Florida (10-1, 7-1 SEC) at No. 10 Florida State (10-1, 7-1 ACC): This is the first time since 2000 that both teams have been ranked in the top 10 of the BCS standings for their game, but FSU fans will argue that the Noles should be ranked higher. If Florida wins, the Gators will likely end up in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. FSU has to do its part to help Clemson have a chance at getting an at-large BCS bid, but the Seminoles also need to win this one for in-state bragging rights, recruiting, and also to reassert themselves near the top of the BCS standings.

2. No. 12 South Carolina (9-2, 6-2 SEC) at No. 11 Clemson (10-1, 7-1 ACC): There are plenty of plotlines in this one, including Dabo Swinney vs. Steve Spurrier, the Gamecocks’ defense against Clemson’s high-flying offense, how South Carolina will fare without Marcus Lattimore, and if Clemson’s defense can show improvement against the best opponent it will have faced since Sept. 22 at FSU. Clemson has lost three straight in this series, but will have home field advantage and a possible at-large BCS bid at stake.

3. Vanderbilt (7-4, 5-3 SEC) at Wake Forest (5-6, 3-5 ACC): Neither team is ranked, but Vandy is one of the hottest teams in the SEC right now, having won five straight. The Demon Deacons, meanwhile, have lost three of their last four. Wake is playing for bowl eligibility, though, so the Commodores can expect the Deacs’ best shot. Wake Forest will also have home field advantage, and needs the win to avoid a losing record for the third time in four years. The Deacs will be playing with a sense of urgency -- or at least they should be.

ACC Week 13 sneak peek

November, 19, 2012
Time flies! Here is a quick look at the matchups in the final week of the regular season. HUGE nonconference opportunities for the ACC await.

No. 12 South Carolina (9-2) at No. 11 Clemson (10-1). Can the Tigers beat their in-state nemesis and keep their hopes alive for a BCS at-large berth? Will the trash talk between Dabo Swinney and Steve Spurrier reach new heights in the lead up to this game? Clemson has won a school-record 13 straight games at the REAL Death Valley but has also lost three straight to Spurrier and the Gamecocks. Many have complained that Clemson has not beaten anybody this year. Well, now is the time.

No. 4 Florida (10-1) at No. 10 Florida State (10-1). They're baaaaack. Yes indeed, this game is always way more meaningful when these two teams are both ranked in the top 10, with national championship stakes on the line. The Gators may be a long shot, but it is not out of the realm of possibility for them to sneak into the title game. All they need is Notre Dame and Alabama to lose. This is the first time since 2000 that both teams are ranked in the top 10 heading into the game. Florida State has won two straight in the series.

Georgia Tech (6-5) at No. 3 Georgia (10-1). No matter what happens in this game, the Jackets are going to Charlotte to take on Florida State in the ACC title game. An upset win over their in-state rivals would obviously be huge for a program that began the year 2-4 and has now won four of its last five games. Plus, the Jackets would eliminate the Bulldogs' chances of playing for a national championship. Georgia has won three straight, and 10 of the last 11, and is a double-digit favorite to win this game. The Jackets' D did a nice job containing Sean Renfree last week; it will have its hands full once again with Aaron Murray.

Virginia (4-7, 2-5) at Virginia Tech (5-6, 3-4). Simple storyline in this one: Win, and the Hokies will play in a bowl game for the 20th straight season. Virginia Tech has been a much better team at home this season, so that gives it a huge advantage. So does its history in this series. Virginia Tech has won 12 of the last 13 meetings, including all eight since joining the ACC.

Miami (6-5, 4-3) at Duke (6-5, 3-4). Well, this game went from huge meaning to having the wind let out of its sails real fast Monday morning, after the Hurricanes announced they were self-imposing a postseason ban for the second straight season. Had Miami been eligible, a win would have gotten them into the ACC title game. Instead, they are playing for pride. You could say the same for Duke, which saw its Coastal chances end last week against Georgia Tech. Miami has won seven straight in the series.

Maryland (4-7, 2-5) at North Carolina (7-4, 4-3). Talk about playing out the string. North Carolina players have maintained their goal this year was to win the Coastal Division. If the Tar Heels win, they would at least finish at 5-3 atop the Coastal with Georgia Tech, though they are ineligible for the postseason and would not be officially recognized for their finish. This is the first meeting between the teams since 2008.

Boston College (2-9, 1-6) at NC State (6-5, 3-4). The big question -- will Boston College coach Frank Spaziani have a job after this game ends? The Eagles are trying to avoid their first two-win season since going 2-9 in 1989. They showed a lot of grit in a close loss to Virginia Tech last week. NC State, meanwhile, lost a wild shootout to Clemson. The Eagles need to contain Tobais Palmer, who was a one-man wrecking crew last week.

Vanderbilt (7-4) at Wake Forest (5-6). The Deacs close the season with their second straight nonconference opponent and will face a tough test from a Vanderbilt team that just walloped Tennessee last week -- and walloped this very team a year ago. Wake Forest needs a win to go back to a bowl game.
Clemson and Florida State are in position to win out in November, but who has the best chance to finish 11-1?

Heather and I have put our sparring gloves on to duke this one out.

Heather says: Clemson

[+] EnlargeTajh Boyd
Jeremy Brevard/US PresswireDespite a tough schedule ahead, can QB Tajh Boyd and the Tigers win out in November games?
When South Carolina got pummeled by Florida, 44-11, things started to look good for Clemson.

When South Carolina lost standout running back Marcus Lattimore to a gruesome knee injury, it was devastating to the Gamecocks’ offense, and heartbreaking for Lattimore. My guess is that most Clemson players – at least the true competitors - would rather brag about a win over their rival with Lattimore in the lineup.

Even with Lattimore sidelined, though, South Carolina will still be the toughest opponent remaining on Clemson’s schedule. South Carolina, though, is not undefeated anymore. And Clemson isn’t the Clemson you’re used to.

This one will finish the season with only one loss.

Even some of the most loyal Clemson fans fear their team “pulling a Clemson,” but fear not: It’s not gonna happen. The Tigers won’t lose this weekend to an overmatched Duke team. They certainly won’t lose at home to Maryland’s 15th-string quarterback. They won’t lose to NC State in Death Valley after what happened last year.

And Dabo Swinney will not lose to Steve Spurrier again.

With two losses, both on the road to LSU and Florida, South Carolina has nothing to be ashamed of this year. It does prove, however, that the Gamecocks aren’t invincible. As long as Clemson’s offensive line can keep Jadeveon Clowney out of the Tigers’ backfield and protect quarterback Tajh Boyd, Clemson should win. Clemson has enough playmakers on offense to win, as long as it doesn’t turn the ball over and Boyd stays on his feet.

Florida State is also good enough to win out, but considering the Noles still have to travel to Blacksburg for a Thursday night game and have to face Florida, the odds of Florida State “pulling a Florida State” seem better than Clemson, well, you know …

Andrea says: Florida State

[+] EnlargeEj Manuel
Melina Vastola/US PresswireQB EJ Manuel and the Seminoles have the offensive potential to win all of their games in November.
Back when we made our bold second-half predictions, I said Florida State would run the table and finish 11-1.

I am beginning to look more and more like a genius. Because with three games left in the season, I am more convinced than ever the Seminoles are going to win out, and get back to the ACC championship game.

First, look at the schedule. The toughest remaining ACC game is next Thursday night at Virginia Tech. This would be a much tougher game if the Hokies were the same team that has dominated Coastal Division play. But they are not even close. Virginia Tech is 4-4 and fighting with Duke and Miami for a chance to play in the ACC title game. The Hokies have not been able to find any consistency in their running game, and Logan Thomas has not lived up to preseason expectations. The defense has improved of late, but has not lived up to the high standards that we have all come to expect from a Bud Foster coached group.

After the Hokies, Florida State plays at Maryland. As Heather noted above, that team is on its 156th-starting quarterback this season. Mark the W. The finale will be a doozy, against in-state rival Florida. The Gators, however, have problems of their own. Did anybody see their performance against Georgia last week? Six turnovers are not going to win you many games. Florida will be the toughest out left, no question, but the Gators remain an enigma on offense.

Second, look at the way EJ Manuel is playing. He is not putting his team in bad situations. He is doing a good job with his decision making and taking care of the football. He has gotten some big plays out of his receivers and running backs as well. When this group is on, it is fun to watch.

Finally, look at the Florida State defense. This is the No. 2 group in the nation -- far better than what Clemson has. The Noles should be able to slow down the offenses remaining on the schedule. For all these reasons, Florida State is the better pick to win out the rest of the way.

ACC second-half preview

October, 17, 2012
The first half of the season did not go perfectly. OK, that may be an understatement, but there is plenty to look forward to in the second half.

First and foremost is the real possibility that the ACC could land two teams in the BCS for a second straight year. National folks may lament the state of the ACC at this point, with only two ranked teams and a conference that is not as strong as the Big East in the latest set of power rankings.

But if Florida State and Clemson win out, the ACC will have the very real possibility of landing both in the marquee bowl spots: one as the conference champion and the other as an at-large selection. To get an at-large berth, a team must finish with at least nine wins and in the top 14 of the final BCS standings.

[+] EnlargeFlorida State's EJ Manuel
AP Photo/Gerry Broome)EJ Manuel and the Seminoles are in line to win the Atlantic Division, should they win out the second half of the season and NC State loses.
As it stands today, Florida State is ranked No. 14 and Clemson No. 19 in the BCS standings. But a whole lot will change between now and December. Last year, Virginia Tech finished 11-2 and No. 11 in the final BCS standings. Clemson, the ACC champ, was No. 15 at 10-3. Also keep in mind, the SEC can get only two teams into the BCS, so that should open spots up for other conferences looking to get a second team in.

If the ACC can get two into the BCS, things would look a whole lot rosier for this league than they do today. (Winning those BCS games is another issue for another day.)

Secondly, there are very real races happening in both the Atlantic and Coastal Divisions. That should make for a topsy-turvy, unpredictable and fun end to the season. Right now, Maryland, Florida State, NC State and Clemson all have designs on playing in the ACC championship game out of the Atlantic.

To make things simple: Maryland needs to win out to get there; NC State needs to win out to get there; Florida State needs to win out and have NC State lose; Clemson needs to win out and have Florida State lose.

Over in the Coastal, Miami, Duke and Virginia Tech -- yes Virginia Tech! -- have a shot at representing their division in the title game. In the simplest scenario, Miami and Virginia Tech can win out to get there; Duke needs to win out and have Virginia Tech lose again.

Given what we've seen to start this year and in seasons past, one thing that we can definitely look forward to in the second half: more unpredictability.

Bold prediction: Florida State will win out. The Seminoles have not won 11 games since 2000, but I think this is the year they can do it. Yes, I know what happened at NC State, but the Seminoles had a bad game. They are still the best team in the ACC and leave the state of Florida just twice in their final five games. Games at Miami and Virginia Tech will be tough, and so will the finale at home against Florida. But I still think this team is capable of running the table.

Looking forward to: Will the Hokies be the comeback kings of the ACC? Things have not gone well for Virginia Tech this season. Nobody predicted a 4-3 record at this point with losses to Pitt and Cincinnati. But Virginia Tech is 2-1 in ACC play and very much in the hunt for the Coastal Division crown. Its only loss is to North Carolina, ineligible for the postseason. Hurdles remain, with consecutive games at Clemson, at Miami and versus Florida State. That is the toughest stretch of any team in the ACC. How Virginia Tech handles that three-game set will determine what type of season the Hokies will have.

Top five games:

Virginia Tech at Miami, Nov. 1. This one should have an impact on the outcome of the Coastal Division. The road team is 1-4 in the past five meetings.

Florida State at Virginia Tech, Nov. 8. Both are going to need to win this game to keep their division hopes alive in this huge Thursday night game in Blacksburg. This will be the second straight Thursday night game for the Hokies.

NC State at Clemson, Nov. 17. This one could end up deciding the Atlantic Division. NC State needs to win out to play in the ACC title game. But the last time the Tigers lost two straight to NC State was 2002-2003.

Florida at Florida State, Nov. 24. This could very well be a matchup of two top-10 teams when this game rolls around. Florida State has won two straight and held the Gators to a combined 14 points in those games.

South Carolina at Clemson, Nov. 24. If the Tigers hold out hope of getting an at-large berth, beating the Gamecocks will be huge. South Carolina has won three straight in the series. Most looking forward to the barbs traded between Steve Spurrier and Dabo Swinney.

Ultimate ACC road trip: Week 13

June, 5, 2012

Welcome back to the ACC’s ultimate road trip. In case you’re just joining us, whoa are you late. Get with the program. It's already rivalry week. This is the week you’d like to be everywhere at once. But you can’t. You’ve got to pick one. Where should we go in our final week of the regular season? Here’s a look at our final stop:

Saturday, Nov. 24
  • Boston College at NC State
  • South Carolina at Clemson
  • Miami at Duke
  • Florida at Florida State
  • Georgia Tech at Georgia
  • Maryland at North Carolina
  • Virginia at Virginia Tech
  • Vanderbilt at Wake Forest
My choice: South Carolina at Clemson

Why: Two main reasons: 1) the Virginia Tech-UVa game won’t carry as much meaning to the Coastal Division race as it did in 2011 because the Hokies’ defense will separate the two programs throughout the season and in this game, and 2) Spurrier vs. Swinney. This rivalry will feature two coaches who like to talk, and last year -- whether it was intentional or not -- their off-field jabs at each other added some spice to an already heated rivalry.

Swinney is the one with something to prove in this game, though, as he has now lost to South Carolina three straight years. That hasn’t happened in the series since 1968-70. Clemson fans have lost their bragging rights AND their patience, but it’s not going to be any easier this year. South Carolina should again be a contender for the SEC East title.

Considering the expectations for the other teams in the ACC/SEC matchups, the best rivalry game should be in Death Valley. Florida returns 10 starters, but the Noles are ahead of the game and should again win the unofficial state championship. Georgia’s defense and quarterback Aaron Murray should be the difference against Georgia Tech. Swinney won Clemson’s first ACC title since 1991, but if he whiffs a fourth straight time against the Gamecocks, fans might not remember last December.

The Ultimate Road Trip
Move over, Gamecocks. There's a new repeat champion in town.

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson and former hoops star Jon Barry defended their Chick-fil-A Bowl Challenge title Tuesday with a one-stroke victory to take home the $125,000 scholarship prize in Greensboro, Ga.

The Yellow Jackets duo finished 10-under par, with Barry nailing a five-foot putt on the 18th hole to hold off Maryland (Randy Edsall/Stan Gelbaugh) and Florida State (Jimbo Fisher/Terrell Buckley) and win the crown for the second year in a row. South Carolina's Steve Spurrier and Sterling Sharpe had won back-to-back crowns in 2008 and 2009, and that duo tied for eighth Tuesday.

There's apparently no truth to the rumor that Johnson and Barry stood up last year and guaranteed a repeat title, a la Pat Riley in 1987.

"It was a first-class tournament," Johnson said. "It's fun to play out here and I’m very fortunate to have a partner that's as skilled as Jon. It got real competitive coming down the stretch. We knew on 16 that we had to get probably to 10-under because we knew the guys had strokes on us on the last hole."

Barry also won the celebrity long-drive contest, hitting a ball 308 yards for a $5,000 scholarship prize. Miami coach Al Golden won the coaches division contest with the exact same distance.

"I didn't want to have to hit a five footer to win this tournament, but coach hit a great chip in there," Barry said. "We knew we had to make par on the toughest hole in Georgia and we got it done. It was a lot of fun. I'll tell you, my mouth was dry and I was as nervous as I've ever been. Thankfully we got it done and had a great time."

Nine ACC pairings made up the 15-team field for the event, which had a scholarship purse of $520,000. An additional $243,000 was generated for charitable organizations. An ACC pairing has won the event four out of six times, with FSU claiming the top spot in 2010 and Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer and Dell Curry winning in 2007.

A complete final scoreboard can be found here.