Gamecocks hope to avoid Death Valley meltdown like 1980 game

Clemson's Jeff McCall runs in a touchdown
Clemson's Jeff McCall runs in a touchdown
Clemson fans storm the field after the upset
Clemson fans storm the field after the upset

By Logan Smith - bio | email

CLEMSON, SC (WIS) — While many Gamecock fans have already turned their attention to the University of South Carolina's upcoming Southeastern Conference Championship game against Auburn, history suggests USC shouldn't count this weekend's Clemson game as a done deal.

The Gamecocks (8-3) got their 10th eight-win season in almost 120 years of football with a 69-24 blowout of Troy on Saturday, while Clemson (6-5) managed to become bowl eligible with their win at Wake Forest. But as much as the Tigers appear to be the clear underdogs in this weekend's game, it wouldn't be the first time a seemingly-outmatched Clemson team pulled a stunning upset over their arch-rivals.

Carolina's 1980 game at Clemson was supposed to be the icing on the best season in USC history. The Gamecocks came to Death Valley with an eight-win season, a future Heisman-winning running back in George Rogers, and a top 20 ranking. The Tigers, meanwhile, had slumped during the regular season by winning just five games and failing to achieve bowl eligibility.

But Rogers unexpectedly failed to score a single touchdown during the game, and Clemson defensive back Willie Underwood's two interceptions included one returned for a touchdown. Clemson finished their unremarkable season by upsetting Carolina 27-6, beginning the Tigers' longest winning streak in school history and leading to a national championship the very next year.

There are a number of parallels between that game and this week's matchup, which will be played 30 years to the week after Clemson's big win. Carolina is ranked 18th heading into the game, and their eight-win season means a bowl invitation is certain. Unranked Clemson, meanwhile, has struggled to become bowl-eligible this season.

This year South Carolina's star running back is freshman Marcus Lattimore, who set Carolina's single-season touchdown mark on Saturday. Clemson will undoubtedly be hoping to stop Lattimore like they did Rogers, but the Gamecocks still have a capable quarterback-receiver combination in Stephen Garcia and Alshon Jeffery.

South Carolina and Clemson will kick off their season-ending rivalry game at 7:00pm Saturday on ESPN2. The Gamecocks won the SEC East Division this year for the first time ever, and will play Auburn in the SEC title game on December 4 in Atlanta.

Copyright 2010 WIS. All rights reserved. AP contributed to this report.