CLEMSON, S.C. -- The stakes for the annual South Carolina-Clemson grudge match are great-er than just bragging rights this year.
For the downtrodden 0-10 Gamecocks, a victory in Satur-day's 12:30 p.m. contest in Wil-liams-Brice Stadium could elimi-nate some of the disappointment of Lou Holtz's first year in Colum-bia. The 5-5 Tigers have had a dramatic turnaround in Tommy Bowden's inaugural campaign but need a win to extend their season.
Clemson missed a chance to clinch a bowl bid in last week's 45-42 loss at Georgia Tech. Tigers sophomore linebacker Chad Carson acknowledged the added significance of Saturday's Palmetto State showdown.
"It's a do or die situation," Carson said. "They can ruin our whole season and make our off-season miserable."
Bowden and his rejuvenated squad have history on their side. Clemson has not lost in Columbia since 1987, a streak of five consecutive Tiger victories on Gamecock soil. In addition, the Tigers are 8-2 in games that can make them bowl eligible since 1988.
For such an intense rivalry, one that annually splits households, a lot is resting on this weekend's outcome. A Peach Bowl invitation for the Tigers would cap a colossal turnaround after last year's 3-8 debacle.
A win by South Carolina would snap their two-year odyssey into college football's abyss. Entering Saturday's contest with one victory in their last 21 games, the Gamecocks want to end their season on a positive note as well as claim state supremacy.
"Nothing would make their season better than to beat us," said Clemson's junior defensive tackle Jason Holloman. "It adds a little more pressure for us. We need this real bad to go to a bowl."
While Bowden claims the Tigers have displayed significant improvement during his debut at the Clemson helm, his seniors still have one goal left to accomplish. They don't want to be remembered as the class that ended their final two years watching others in bowl games.
Senior wide receiver Brian Wofford has a sprained knee and is questionable for the Tigers. Wofford believes USC relishes the spoiler role and would like nothing more than keeping Clemson home for the holidays.
"We know this game involves bigger things to come (for Clemson) or it could send us home for Christmas," Wofford said. "They really have nothing to lose; they have a lot to gain."
Bowden is more concerned with keeping his players focused than being a 16-point favorite. The Tigers control their own destiny but face a team with nothing to play for but pride, making them dangerous in Bowden's mind.
"There's tremendous motivation there," Bowden said. "One win could salvage their whole year. It makes it that much bigger. There's bowl implications for us and 0-11 staring at them."
The coaching rumor mill has begun swirling with speculation that Clemson offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez will be lured away by a head coaching position elsewhere. Gerry DiNardo's dismissal at Louisiana State on Monday fueled the gossip at Clemson.
Rodriguez confirmed he had been contacted by a few unnamed institutions but revealed little else concerning his future with the Tigers. He said he had not interviewed with anyone and did not have any interviews set up.
"I'm happy where I'm at right now," Rodriguez said, noting his family is scheduled to move into its new home around Christmas. "I'm very flattered by (the rumors). I take it as a compliment."
As Tommy Bowden's partner, Rodriguez has been instrumental in Clemson's offensive revival. The Tigers are averaging 28.4 points and 401.5 yards of total offense this season and have two of the ACC's top four receivers.
Rodriguez hinted he would be lured away only by a head coaching position at a major university and would be open to offers.
"Earlier in my career, I would've taken any Division I coaching job," Rodriguez said.
Reach Jimmy DeButts at (706) 823-3216.
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