No. 15 Clemson turns focus to Gamecocks

CLEMSON, S.C. - The Atlantic Coast Conference championship game can wait for Clemson.

It's South Carolina week, and that's too important for the 15th-ranked Tigers to overlook.

"For us, it's just the next game, next goal," coach Dabo Swinney said Tuesday.

The Tigers (8-3) have a done a good job so far in sticking to Swinney's philosophy.

They've been locked onto the five team goals permanently put on the wall of Clemson's main meeting room. The Tigers have already checked off the first two this season - "Win The Opener" and "Win The Atlantic Division" - and now they're ready to move on to No. 3, "Win The State Championship."

Still, wouldn't it be easy for the Tigers to brush aside the nonconference rivalry with the Gamecocks (6-5) and let their minds wander to the ACC championship game in Tampa, Fla., against Georgia Tech on Dec. 5?

No, Clemson star C.J. Spiller said: "It'd mess up one of our team goals and that's winning this game."

The Tigers have done that quite well since the two schools about 150 miles apart first kicked it off in 1896. Clemson holds the overall edge, 65-37-4. The Tigers have been particularly dominant the past three decades or so, winning 24 of 33 since 1976.

Clemson's won the past two, six of the last seven and 10 of 12.

Lou Holtz, South Carolina's coach from 1999-2004, was 1-5 against Clemson. With Steve Spurrier as coach, the Gamecocks have won once in four tries.

Even if Clemson wanted to sneak a peak at the Yellow Jackets, the Tigers' fans wouldn't let them.

Just look at last Sunday. Less than 24 hours after Clemson wrapped up the ACC's Atlantic and won its sixth straight game, 34-21, over Virginia, Tigers fans were reminding Swinney just how important it is to beat those Gamecocks.

"We quickly turned the page," Swinney said.

Tigers quarterback Kyle Parker heard from some around campus that they didn't care if Clemson won the ACC title game as long as it kept its winning ways against South Carolina.

"That just shows you how much they care," said Parker, a freshman from Jacksonville, Fla.

A year ago, Clemson's 31-14 victory over South Carolina helped Swinney go from interim coach to the permanent job. Former Clemson coach Tommy Bowden was 7-2 against the Gamecocks, a mark that helped him keep his job despite the fact he never won a conference title.

Swinney hasn't changed preparation or increased emphasis this week. It's just another game, albeit one that gives Tigers or Gamecocks fans the chance to stand a little taller the rest of the year.

"Of course, we want to go out there and win the game," Spiller said. "That's why we're going to prepare the best way we can this week."

It's the way they've gone about things all year and particularly during the winning streak when questions mounted about when - not if - the Tigers would lose focus they had worked so hard to keep.

"South Carolina that's the one game out of year we look forward to," receiver Jacoby Ford said. "We know they're going to be fired up to play us and we definitely know that we're going to be fired up to play those guys."

Spiller immediately shot down the chance he might rest his sore turf toe Saturday to be healthier for Georgia Tech. "It's the last regular season game," he said. "There's no need for rest."

Right now for Clemson, its all about the Gamecocks.

"Nobody cares about next week or last week or whatever," Swinney said. "It's about four quarters on Saturday when you play your rival."

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