COLUMBIA — To say that football fans in the Palmetto State are living in a golden age of quarterbacks would be an understatement.
A huge one.
As Clemson and South Carolina met Saturday night at Williams-Brice Stadium for the 111th time in a series that dates to 1896, you could make a case that this is the best quarterback play either school has ever produced.
On the Clemson side is Tajh Boyd, a strong-armed passer with gaudy numbers.
On the South Carolina side is Connor Shaw, a signal-caller who is as likely to break defenses with his feet as he is with his arm.
There’s a reason the rivals are meeting with both ranked in the top 10 for the first time, and their names are Boyd and Shaw.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, who knows a thing or two about passing, had plenty of praise for Clemson early in the week.
“This is the best passing team we’ve played all year,” Spurrier said.
Boyd, the 2012 Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year, entered Saturday night’s game as the holder of 57 school records. He’s also a finalist for the top three postseason quarterback awards.
He holds pretty much every Clemson career record for passing, including touchdowns (102), completions (851) and yardage (11,301).
“Tajh has made us an elite program again,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said after last week’s win against The Citadel. “He embraced his role and enjoyed every second as the quarterback at Clemson University. His vision was to leave his mark on Clemson, and he has done that.”
Boyd would tie Rodney Williams for the school record for victories by a starting quarterback if Clemson beat South Carolina. Boyd had 31 entering the game and Williams had 32 between 1985-88.
The one major achievement missing from Boyd’s résumé is a win over South Carolina. He has not beaten the Gamecocks in three previous tries, including as a starter the past two seasons.
While South Carolina is trying to beat Clemson for the fifth time in a row, Shaw can only claim one of those victories as a starter.
He did not play as a freshman in the 2010 game, but as a starter in 2011 he torched the Tigers for three touchdowns in a 34-13 win. He had to sit out the 2012 game at Clemson because of injury and watched as backup Dylan Thompson led the Gamecocks to victory.
In his most recent start against Coastal Carolina, Shaw became the winningest starting quarterback in school history. He is 25-5, which surpassed the previous record of 24-16-3 set by Todd Ellis.
Shaw took over as the Gamecocks’ starting quarterback midway through the 2011 season, and that’s when they embarked on a 17-game home winning streak. It’s the longest in school history and is currently the longest active streak in the nation.
While Shaw doesn’t compile huge statistics, he is known for his accuracy. He has completed 65.1 percent of his career pass attempts, and he went a school record 177 pass attempts without an interception before getting picked off at Tennessee earlier this year.
For the season, Shaw has thrown 275 passes with just one interception.
“I guess each of us both played one game against (Clemson),” Shaw said after the Coastal Carolina game. “It’s going to be special for us. It’s going to be Senior Night for me, so hopefully we can come out and play hard against them.”