Originally posted on Crystal Ball Run  |  Last updated 11/26/11

In South Carolina, there is one game that can make or break a season. If you do not believe me, ask any South Carolinian: "Who is winning the game this year?" At any point in the season, their response will be either Clemson or South Carolina.

For Clemson and South Carolina fans, there is a new book out this holiday season that each of them should have: Classic Clashes of the Carolina-Clemson Football Rivalry: A State of Disunion.

A State of Disunion covers more than a century of conflict between Clemson and University of South Carolina as told through the 20 most compelling stories defining the rivalry, dating back to 1896. This well-researched and entertaining work is chock full of previously untold stories and incredible historical photographs, representing more than a century of the two schools' football programs.

These football stories have been extensively researched and reported by two veteran sports writers: Larry Williams, formerly of the Charleston Post & Courier newspaper and currently a senior writer for TigerIllustrated.com, which is the premier Clemson football and recruiting website; and Travis Haney, formerly the South Carolina beat writer for the Charleston Post & Courier and now the University of Oklahoma football writer for The Oklahoman newspaper.

To help us preview this year's Clemson-South Carolina game, Williams answered "Five Burning Questions" about one of college football's most intense rivalries.

1) How big, exactly, is the Clemson-South Carolina rivalry inside the state?

It's huge, and much bigger than people outside the state realize. This is such a small state, and there are very few geographical strongholds favoring either fan base. That means there are countless instances of fans occupying the same neighborhoods, same schools, same boardrooms, same barrooms, even same families. Just a lot of cases of opposing fans being elbow-to-elbow, and of course familiarity tends to fan the flames of contempt.

 

I suspect it's different in, say, Florida with fans of the Seminoles and Gators. Not saying there aren't locations where there's a lot of mixing, but it seems there are geographical enclaves that are dominated by fan bases of one school or the other. Here, bragging rights are such a big deal because these people are together quite a bit.

And heck, they packed Death Valley in 1998 when the two teams entered with a combined three wins. I don't know that many other rivalries would have the same draw to see two bad teams.

2) In your book you go deep into the Palmetto State rivalry. With Clemson and South Carolina both being ranked coming into the game, how does the 2011 edition compare to others?

This is a biggie – it's just the fifth time in the history of the rivalry that both teams are ranked going in. The others were 2000, 1988, 1987 and 1979. Last week I spent a lot of time talking about this being just the second Top 15 matchup in the rivalry's history (the other was 1987), and then Clemson went and laid an egg in Raleigh and plummeted out of the Top 15. But it's still a big deal because these two teams are pretty good at the same time, and unfortunately that's seldom happened in this feud.

The biggest knock on this rivalry is that no one outside the state really cares about it. To draw more interest and appreciation from elsewhere, these two teams simply have to win on a more consistent basis.

3) Was this ever a peaceful rivalry?

Nope, never been peaceful at all. The bitterness and bad blood don't just go back to the beginning. They go back to before the beginning. Clemson owes its very existence as an institution to strife and rancor with the state school. Ben "Pitchfork" Tillman and his farmer cronies thought South Carolina was presenting a sham of an agricultural program, misusing federal land-grant funding. So they started up their own school in 1889, and the two teams started playing each other in football seven years later. It was the perfect battleground for years' worth of tension and antagonism that had nothing to do with football. A class-warfare kind of thing between the farmers and the so-called elites. In 1902, Clemson's cadets and South Carolina's students were involved in a confrontation that involved guns, bayonets, swords, brass knuckles and other weaponry. It didn't blow up into a full-blown riot, but it was close. Had a massacre taken place that day, the rivalry might have been dead for good. As it happened, they didn't play each other from 1902 to 1909. That's why the rivalry is the third-longest continuous rivalry instead of the longest.

4) Clemson, historically, has dominated this rivalry game. The Gamecocks, however, are going for three in a row. How bad do Dabo Swinney and Clemson need this?

It's a huge game for both schools. I'm calling it the "Forgiveness Bowl" because the winner atones for a lot in the eyes of its fan base. The Gamecocks would have the second 10-win season in their history and three straight wins over the Tigers for the first time in 40 years. South Carolina fans aren't happy that they didn't win the SEC East, and there have been lots of reasons for concern in Columbia despite the nine wins, but winning Saturday would make their fans positively giddy.

It's big for Swinney, too. His predecessor, Tommy Bowden, went 7-2 against Lou Holtz and Steve Spurrier. Heck, ownership of the Gamecocks would probably be the first line on Bowden's Clemson resume. And now Swinney is responsible for back-to-back spankings at the hands of the hated bunch in Columbia. Even if the Tigers win their first ACC title in 20 years, a third consecutive loss to the Gamecocks would put a smudge on that accomplishment. Clemson people just cannot stand losing to the Gamecocks because they've done it so seldom over the last 35 or so years. There's usually more relief than exhilaration in wins over the Gamecocks, simply because fans are happy they don't have to deal with Gamecock fans rubbing it in their faces for a year.

Swinney knows how important this game is because it was the 2008 win over the Gamecocks that solidified his case to have the interim tag removed from his title. A third consecutive defeat would make for a lot of heartburn on the booster-club circuit.

5) South Carolina, Clemson win if?

Clemson wins if it's able to exploit South Carolina' issues covering in the vertical passing game, putting stress on the back end of the Gamecocks' defense and opening up some opportunities to run the ball with draws and running-back screens and such. The Tigers also have a great shot at winning if their front four dominates and forces the Gamecocks into a lot of punts.

South Carolina wins if Clemson's offensive line continues to play poorly, and if the Tigers continue to have problems defending running quarterbacks.

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