Clemson has had a great run of consecutive 11-2 seasons; however there is still somewhat of an empty feeling in regards to those last two seasons. The same two teams account for those 4 losses, and one could argue with little opposition that they are the two most important teams on the schedule each year. Each one for different reasons.
During the Tommy Bowden years, we routinely beat up on South Carolina but couldn't win the ACC. A lot of fans started asking themselves: would they rather us continue that dominance or start winning the ACC? It seemed as though that trend completely reversed after Dabo Swinney took over and the Tigers played in the title game in 2009 and won the ACC in 2011, but for the past two years Florida State has won the league and we haven't been able to do either.
So again, the question must be asked, which would you rather beat, South Carolina or Florida State? The ideal answer is both, but for the purpose of this evaluation you have to pick one. The question you have to ask yourself is: which game means more?
Beating South Carolina is important for obvious reasons. The first would be bragging rights. We have been fortunate enough to not have to suffer a long losing streak like this in years past. In fact, the last time anyone had to experience consecutive South Carolina victories was a three-game winning streak that the Coots owned in 1968-1970. I wasn't even alive then. Some of us younger Clemson fans are used to complete domination of the Gamecocks, and the recent role reversal doesn't sit very well with us. I have to give credit to those of you who have to hear the constant talk at work, school, church or the grocery store. I'm lucky enough that I get to hide out in Ohio and avoid the flag waving, bandwagon, five-bombing yokels for most of the year.
Another reason would be recruiting. Can we continue to out-recruit South Carolina if they continue to bash our heads in year after year? So far we have been lucky. According to 247 Sports Composite rankings, we have had the higher-ranked recruiting class 3 out of the last 5 years, stretching back to the beginning of the streak. Looking a little deeper, Carolina did have the highest rated South Carolina player 4 out of those 5 years (Marcus Lattimore, Jadeveon Clowney, Shaq Roland, and Donell Stanley). This year they also currently have the #1 player in South Carolina committed, Shameik Blackshear. They could clean up the top 5 with commitments from Ty'Son Williams and Zack Bailey. I think it's imperative that we beat them on the field to ensure that more of these recruits start coming our way in the future.
That's not to say that we don't battle Florida State for a lot of recruits, but to think we could pull the best recruits out of Florida on a routine basis from these guys or the other Florida schools is being unreasonable. We should be able to dominate our own state though. Beating FSU is also important, for equally obvious reasons. First of all, if we don't beat the Seminoles, we don't win the ACC. It's become that cut and dry now. The winner of the Clemson/Florida State game has gone on to play in ACC Championship game for the last four years and has gone on to win it the last three. How important is winning the ACC to us now? With the advent of the new College Football Playoff, I suggest that it is not as crucial.
You pretty much had to go undefeated to play for a national title before. Now you just have to be one of the top 4 teams in the country. Clemson plays FSU earlier in the year than they play SC. Which loss is more likely to keep us out of the top 4? An early-season loss to the Seminoles or a late-season loss to the Coots? The answer is obvious. We'd have more time to climb the polls with a loss to FSU and would cement our status as a contender with a win over SC. Beating them used to mean nothing, but the game is of national importance now with their rise under Steve Spurrier, becoming one of the perennial top 10 teams in college football. The key would be to at least be competitive in the loss the Florida State. I doubt very much a 51-14 type of loss would do us any favors in this department.
Don't get me wrong. I want to beat Florida State as much as the next guy, and in an ideal world we do both. If you really ask yourself this question though, how would you answer? I'm picking in-state dominance over ACC titles here. Feel free to sound off in the comments and tell me how full of it I am.