South Carolina has had a difficult enough time beating Tennessee at full strength.
So it doesn't bode well for the Gamecocks this afternoon that their top two quarterbacks are still a little gimpy.
Starter Dondrial Pinkins' throwing shoulder is better than it's been in weeks, but that still puts the fifth-year senior at somewhere around 90 percent, according to team trainers.
Pinkins injured his rotator cuff in the first half of the Gamecocks' Oct. 2 win at Alabama. He hasn't played since.
Coach Lou Holtz said Pinkins will start against the 11th-ranked Volunteers at 12:30 p.m. today (CBS-Ch. 12).
Backup Syvelle Newton, who filled in for Pinkins until the second half of the Kentucky game two weeks ago, is also expected to be available.
Newton's sprained right ankle is serviceable, but the typically mobile redshirt sophomore is operating at about 75 percent, trainers said.
"Even if he can't run," Holtz said, "he throws pretty well."
GETTING HIS CHANCE: It seems North Augusta native Reggie Merriweather is emerging from Clemson's wealth of backs.
Although he and Duane Coleman will both see their share of carries, Merriweather is expected to get the start this afternoon against North Carolina State.
Tigers coaches like the versatility of Coleman and Merriweather in their running, pass blocking and receiving.
Merriweather's just been a little better in those areas in recent weeks.
"He's separated himself a little bit right now," Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said. "You're just looking at a minute separation between the two, but Reggie has done that."
He's scored three touchdowns in the past two weeks; his 2-yard score with 23 seconds remaining in last week's Maryland game secured Clemson's first conference win since the opening week of the season.
The redshirt sophomore leads the team with 306 yards on 56 carries. The yardage alone isn't all that gaudy, but the 5.5 yards per carry is.
"I'm doing what I knew I could do all along." Merriweather said.
On the whole, Tigers backs are seeing their carries increase.
They've received 40 carries each of the past two weeks, as opposed to an average of less than 20 before the Oct. 16 victory over Utah State.
"It's great now that we're getting these chances," Merriweather said. "We know we have to make the most of them to keep getting them."
Against the Aggies, the Tigers rushed for 200 yards and four touchdowns (Merriweather had two).
"That was as good as it's been for us," Merriweather said. "We really showed we could be physical."
GETTING PICKY: Despite the fact it hasn't won this game since 1992, South Carolina is becoming a posh pick to upset the Vols today.
As of Friday night, USA Today's Danny Sheridan had inserted the Gamecocks as one-point favorites.
The most Tennessee is favored by any Las Vegas line is a field goal.
Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel picked South Carolina in the upset, 17-16, saying receiver Troy Williamson would be the difference.
STRANGE TREND: When Clemson beat Maryland last week, it continued a bizarre theme for this season.
To date, each conference team the Tigers lost to last season (Maryland and Wake Forest), they've beaten in 2004.
Each ACC opponent they defeated a year ago (Georgia Tech, Florida State, Virginia), they've lost to this year.
If the trend holds true this week, Clemson will beat N.C. State, which won the 2003 game by a score of 17-15.
Reach Travis Haney at (706) 823-3304 or email@example.com.
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