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College football never runs short in the surprise department, but here in the Palmetto State, two things yesterday have me in a bit of disbelief. With both of these surprising situations involving divisional races, Clemson and South Carolina both amazed me in different ways Saturday...
South Carolina can never again play a "meaningless" game. On facebook, I see comments all of the time from folks who are friends of friends of friends. Many times, I have never met these people, nor have the slightest clue who they are. But one facebook comment I saw after the USC-Arkansas game seemed to say it all.
That is all the comment said following a "status" about the Gamecocks losing to Arkansas. And that is the feel I got as a whole from the USC program following this game. They seemed to play differently than in weeks past. (Or maybe a slowed-down Lattimore is a bigger deal than we realize).
You see, I think USC has a damn fine football team in 2010, and this game really took me by surprise. In my weekend predictions, I picked USC to beat Arkansas - albeit with hesitation. I really did believe the Cocks would win this game and move into next week's showdown with Florida as a top 15 team. I was wrong.
I am not surprised Arkansas won. The Razorbacks are very talented and very well coached. In fact, I debated all week whether or not to take them. But what is the surprise here is how USC let Arkansas mop the floor with them. I was envisioning a rowdy, chaotic scene in Williams-Brice to rock on to one of the biggest seasons in school history. I thought with that D and those offensive weapons that South Carolina had turned a page this year. I guess not.
Yes, the division is what is most important, and win or lose, the Cocks will still play Florida next week for the East championship. I guess my facebook buddy (cough, cough) was right. This game was "meaningless" in a way.
But, at the same time, this guy has no clue just how wrong he is. This game meant tons. Doesn't USC want to be known nationally? I think they do. So wouldn't a ranking of number 13 or so with a win be better than the unranked status USC will now probably own when the polls come out this afternoon? I would think that it would.
But I know this guy dosn't represent all Gamecock fans, and that a huge mass of loyal fans will follow the team to Gainesville in six days. This South Carolina team very well could still win the East and this would be a banner year. I was just very surprised at how the team played against Arkansas while having such a big year. I truly was expecting better, and so I guess maybe USC football really has made progress in the SEC.
Clemson and the ACC Atlantic. In a totally different way, Clemson - and the ACC Atlantic as a whole - are just a circus and bring me to surprise number two. The Tigers - though nearly mathematically eliminated entering yesterday's games - certainly didn't seem to take the game as meaningless. They certainly could have with the mediocre season they had produced so far.
Against a Wolfpack team that was arguably better, CU fought for an ugly win. Unlike South Carolina who is overflowing with big-time playmakers, Clemson and its lost group of skill guys rallied for what may end up being a very big win. We all know the Tigers are depleted at receiver, and they also played against NCSU with running back Andre Ellington out - the best offensive player, in my opinion, on the team.
Like South Carolina, however, the Tigers have a very solid defense. They are anchored by one of the better defensive lines in the nation with Da'Quan Bowers and Jarvis Jenkins leading the way. Thanks to these guys, Clemson was able to stay in the game and ultimately pull out the surprising win.
But it wasn't the win that was the most surprising, but rather the ACC Atlantic division picture as a whole following this most recent round of games.
Two weeks ago, it appeared FSU would win the division, plain and simple. The 'Noles were 4-0 in league play and seemed to be finding their old butt-whooping ways. But after a loss to NCSU last week and to North Carolina yesterday, Florida State has been brought back to the pack, leaving four teams still alive.
Several huge games in the coming three weeks will help decide the division:
1. Clemson at FSU - next week
2. FSU at Maryland - Nov. 20th
3. NCSU at Maryland - November 27th
On top of these three games, these teams each play two other ACC games (Clemson has just one more besides FSU - at Wake Forest). Basically, anything can happen, and the fact that Clemson is still alive is what is the big surprise. Or rather, I should say the UNC win over FSU to set up this situation is the big surprise! The Heels and Noles played one of the more entertaining games of the season, with a fourth quarter that had it all!
But maybe I harp on the negative too much and shouldn't be surprised. After all, The Tigers defeated Maryland and NC State to gain the tiebreaker edge should it come to that. They also beat Georgia Tech from the Coastal.
Winning at Tallahassee next week is going to be super tough. It isn't so much that FSU is an opponent CU can't beat as much as it is that Clemson's offense needs some serious work. There are a few signs of life, but as FSU showed against a good UNC defense, they will score, and Clemson will have to answer to the tune of at least 27 points, I think. I'm not sure if Clemson can score 27 points in a game right now.
But, like I said, win or lose, division title or not, I'm just surprised Clemson is still alive at this point!
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