Clemson eyes second straight perfect season, College Football Playoff

Nov. 29 (UPI) — The Clemson Tigers football team can complete its second consecutive undefeated regular season with a win against South Carolina Saturday in Columbia, S.C.

Clemson (11-0) sits at No. 3 in the College Football Playoff rankings entering the noon EST game at the Gamecocks’ Williams-Brice Stadium.

The Tigers most likely would secure a spot in the final field of four teams vying for a national title in the annual post-season tournament by beating the Gamecocks.

The Gamecocks (4-7) enter the game unranked and have lost four of their last five games after upsetting Georgia Oct. 12 in Athens, Ga. South Carolina has lost back-to-back games entering the season finale against Clemson. The Tigers have won their last five matchups against the Gamecocks and own a 70-42-4 overall record against South Carolina.

Clemson had a week off after throttling Wake Forest 52-3 Nov. 16 in Clemson, S.C.

“It was a long time,” Tigers coach Dabo Swinney told reporters Wednesday. “Normally it’s like a blur, getting ready for this game but all the sudden you have that extra time. Everybody is ready to go.”

The Tigers finished 15-0 and went 8-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference during last season’s national title run. Clemson went 12-2 and 7-1 in the ACC before losing to Alabama in the 2018 National Championship. The 2016-2017 Tigers (14-1, 7-1) beat Alabama for their first consensus football title since 1981 in the 2017 National Championship.

“Clemson week. I’m honored to be a part of one of the great rivalries in college football,” Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp said Tuesday. “It’s very important to our state and important to the University of South Carolina.

“We had a good practice. Guys are bouncing around. They feel that vibe going into this week.”

The Gamecocks will need to limit Tigers star quarterback Trevor Lawrence if they hope to pull off the upset and knock Clemson out of the College Football Playoff picture.

The sophomore sensation is on the outside of the Heisman Trophy race, but has thrown 27 touchdowns against eight interceptions while completing 68.1 percent of his throws for 2,575 yards this season. He also has 392 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground.

Lawrence is expected to be one of the first players taken in the 2021 NFL Draft, should he choose to leave the school after his junior campaign.

The Tigers rank third nationally with 543.1 offensive yards per game. They rank seventh in rushing yards per game and fourth in points per game, averaging 21.7 points per game more than South Carolina.

Clemson is tied with Georgia for allowing the second-fewest points per game on defense. The Tigers trail only Ohio State in allowing the second-fewest yards per game (238.2). Clemson has allowed a 47.1 percent completion percentage to opposing quarterbacks, the best mark in the country. The Tigers defense has allowed just six passing scores and has 13 interceptions.

Wide receiver Tee Higgins leads the Tigers with 799 yards and eight touchdowns on 40 receptions this season. Running back Travis Etienne has a team-high 1,350 yards and 14 touchdowns on 153 carries for the Tigers. Etienne’s rushing yardage total is second in the ACC. He is also averaging 9.1 yards per carry.

Freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski has completed 58 percent of his passes for 2,252 yards, 11 touchdowns and four interceptions this season for South Carolina.

Wide receiver Bryan Edwards ranks eighth in the Southeastern Conference with 816 reiciving yards for South Carolina. Edwards also has six scores. He is questionable for Saturday’s game.

Tavian Feaster leads the Gamecocks’ rushing attack with 639 yards and five scores on 112 attempts this season. Feaster transferred from Clemson to South Carolina last summer. He missed his last two games due to a hamstring injury, but is expected to play against the Tigers.

“It’s an emotional game,” Swinney said. “There is a lot of passion. These guys know a lot about each other. A lot of them know each other and things like that. But you just don’t want to do anything to cross the line … This is a great rivalry. Both sides need to have respect for that.”

Clemson is favored by 27.5 points and the game has an over/under of 50.5 points. The next College Football Playoff ranking will be announced Tuesday on ESPN. The final rankings will be announced Sunday, Dec. 8 on ESPN. This year’s College Football Playoff includes the Dec. 28 Fiesta Bowl and Peach Bowl. The College Football Playoff National Championship will be at 8 p.m. EST Monday, Jan. 13 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.

Clemson at South Carolina

When: Noon EST, Saturday

Where: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, S.C.


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