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Tigers and Gamecocks fall to teams from the Sunshine State to close out 2010. Clemson and South Carolina had different types of seasons this year. USC won its first SEC division championship and was nationally ranked for most of the campaign. Clemson finished fifth in its division and never reached the rankings. The vibe around the Palmetto State was that Carolina had a good year, while Clemson had a bad year, and this was proven on the Death Valley field to the tune of a 29-7 Gamecock win in November. Yes, between the two, this year went to the boys from Columbia. But yesterday, these two teams were on equal footing as they both lost bowl games to teams from Florida.
Florida State 26, South Carolina 17. South Carolina fans will long remember 2010 as a season to remember. They beat Alabama (#1 at the time), Georgia, Tennessee, Florida and Clemson all in the same year. That is five wins all in one season that the Gamecocks have historically had trouble finding one at a time in any season. As mentioned, the Gamecocks will also be able to hang a 2010 SEC Eastern Division Championship banner on one of the concrete exit-raps that grace each corner of Williams-Brice Stadium. It was, undoubtedly, a banner year.
Unfortunately for USC fans, this season will also be remembered by losing the final two games of the year in the Georgia Dome. Auburn embarassed the Eastern representatives in the SEC Title Game, and Florida State manhandled USC in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, knocking out stud running back Marcus Lattimore in the first quarter.
On a screen pass from Stepen Garcia, Lattimore took a hit (a clean hit) that knocked the sensational running back out for the game. It was one of those hits that when you first see it, you "oooh" and "aaaah" and high-five a few friends (if you aren't a USC fan). Then, you stand close to the TV for a few minutes hoping that the guy is alright. Nobody - even me as a Tiger fan - wants to see a Gamecock player get seriously injured. The hit symbolized the way this game would go for USC. As it turns out, thankfully, Lattimore is ok.
While the game would go in FSU's favor, it wasn't decided for sure until late, when EJ Manuel hit Taiwan Easteling for a touchdown pass with five minutes and change to go. After keeping USC within a one-score margin for most of the game, this put FSU up by nine.
South Carolina fans should be excited for 2011. Big-time wide receiver Alshon Jeffery will be back. Marcus Lattimore will be back. Stephen Garcia will be back (that's good, right?). Many defenders will be back. And Steve Spurrier will be back. The Gamecocks will have another team that will challenge for the SEC Eastern division title - a division title that will surely be tougher to win in 2011.
Spurrier has done much to change the attitude in Columbia. Now, USC needs to build on this and continue to think the SEC East championship is an obtainable goal.
South Florida 31, Clemson 26. The title of this artcle is No Sunshine. For South Carolina, that obviously fits as their game was played at night....inside! For Clemson, it also fits. Besides the game being played in a foggy, gloomy overcast day in Charlotte, there was no feeling in this game of a big-time bowl game in a warm, sunny destination. This was no day for sunshine, this day was for dark clouds. And underneath those dark clouds, a team from the Sunshine State sent them home with a losing record.
As a Clemson fan, this 2010 season was the most painful to watch since that of 1998 when we went 3-8 under Tommy West. Yes, when Tommy Bowden's teams were highly ranked and would faceplant, that was also painful. But this year's squad had a helpless, hopeless feeling about it that made it very, very, very hard to watch. Yesterday's game kind of had the whole season in a nutshell: dropped passes, a drive that fizzled in a missed field goal, a Kyle Parker thoughtless interception, a (fairly) strong defensive performance until they tired out, and, ultimately, a close loss.
I'd like to note that this game wasn't as close as the score says. Clemson pulled a late td and an onsides kick to take things from 31-13 to 31-26 in the final minutes. A second on-sides kick was recovered by Clemson's DeAndre McDaniel, but a half of a yard too soon. USF ran out the clock with :42 seconds to play.
In my heart, I like Dabo Swinney a lot. I will be pulling for him hard in 2011 (should he avoid the craziness of an unexpected early dismissal). I think at some point in his career he will be a successful head coach. Heck, he might even become a successful head coach at Clemson - he already has a division crown. But right now as I type this, I have to feel like 2010 was one of the poorest coaching jobs - as a total staff - that I have seen in some time.
I understand that we had no wide receivers. Trust me, I watched 98% of CU's plays live, and probably 100% in some sort of replay. I know what we have. But no team in college football can look at their two-deep and say "yep, we have it all covered." Every team has a weak unit. The job of coaches is to find ways around this and play to our other advantages.
Defensively, Clemson should be solid again in 2011. The large question is whether or not DaQuan Bowers will return. The top defensive player in the nation is deciding between an uncertain NFL situation or a final year for the Tigers. Another loss that is more certain is DeAndre McDaniel, who has used up his four years and will be cracking heads on Sundays next fall. Even without these two, however, CU should play good D. Kevin Steele is the one guy on staff who I think did a fine job in 2010.
Offensively, the question mark is the passing game in 2011. Junior Andre Ellington will be back from injury to be a solid running back, and will have help from incoming freshmen Mike Bellamy and Marlin Lane. But the passing game is uncertain. WR should be built back up via recruits, JC transfers, and returning starter DeAndre Hopkins. But who will throw it to them? I have to admit, returning sophomore Tajh Boyd has not impressed me at all.
If I am a Tiger fan (and I am), then I am hoping for the breaking news that Clemson has hired a big-time, proven offensive coordinator. To me, this is the answer of sorts. Kevin Steele is that man on defense, and his unit was very good. They need the same on offense or this same circus act will continue.
Dabo, I like you my friend, but it is time to do something. If it doesn't happen next year to the liking of at least nine wins and an ACCCG appearance, Clemson will most certainly have a new head coach in 2012.
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