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Felder: That orange elephant is still there

Commentary by Ted Felder
Some Gamecock fans have now gone to the extreme when it comes to the Clemson situation, but it's not the group you would expect. There is a growing number amongst the garnet faithful that is making it their lifes' work to prove that beating Clemson is not as important as winning the SEC. The creative ones have begun to lay out the pathway to becoming a national champion that just includes in it a loss to the Tigers! Name one successful football program that actually had as its foundation an up-front loss to their in-state rival.
This "acceptance" of a loss to them as being part of the equation is understandable based on recent history, but it illustrates just how much of a stranglehold Clemson has on the rivalry. Only at a school that has lost eight out of nine on the field to its rival would these kinds of silly arguments take place, and it's not the fans who feel that they are job No. 1 that are obsessed.
The "pro-rivalry" fans have no problem getting excited about the importance of the SEC. They are well aware about how crucial beating Georgia, Tennessee and Florida are to the program. When South Carolina was right in the middle of its almost decade and a half of losing to Florida, for example, nobody was trying to argue that the Florida game wasn't important to make themselves feel better about the losses. These fans just get the idea that a school like USC will not be respected until it can start beating its rival.
Also, nobody in this group really gives a hoot what a coach "says" about the rivalry's importance. They just want more wins. If Steve Spurrier beats Clemson this year and then holds a press conference to talk for an hour about how little the rivalry means, that's fine with these fans because Clemson would have been beaten.
Meanwhile over in Bizzaro-land, the pretzel-like twisting and spin continues to both impress and invoke feelings of sympathy. Despite all the arguments to the contrary, it is these fans that go off the deep-end of irrationality about the rivalry. By going to such great lengths to show the world that they don't care about Clemson, they illustrate for that world just how obsessed they are. Just to clear it up, no one is fooled by this two-dollar charade. If Carolina actually started beating Clemson on a more regular basis, you would see the excuse-makers come pouring out into the light and rejoicing in the rivalry's importance.
As has been pointed out in this column, there is only way for the anti-rivalry crowd to be proven right. The Gamecocks must first win the SEC East in a year that they lose to Clemson. That's it. Any other scenario proves the pro-rivalry crowd right. If USC wins the SEC East and beats Clemson, the pro-rivalry crowd goes home vindicated because Carolina didn't win the East until it beat Clemson. This situation would also provide some great amusement since the Clemson game is last on the schedule. Can you imagine the message board posts? "Well, we were technically SEC East Champs before the Clemson game!" Of course, if USC beats Clemson and doesn't win the East, the pro-rivalry group also is proven right.
The bottom line is that as long as Carolina is still playing Clemson, the rivalry will always be the most important job. Notice that nowhere does that statement indicate that it is the ONLY job. No, you cannot just beat Clemson as a Gamecock coach and be fine. The SEC games and playing within the rules are also important components to a successful program. For the most anal-retentive, this column will even take a stab at arbitrary percentages. Running a clean program should be 25 percent, winning the SEC games should be 35 percent, and beating Clemson should be 40 percent.
So if you're among the tin-hats who are hopeful that the football rivalry talk will go away, put your focus on winning the SEC East and then losing to the Tigers. Then and only then will anyone seriously believe that the Gamecocks can be a national title contender while losing to Clemson. This whole "debate" is akin to listening to an alcoholic in denial about why they are out of control. Consider this column an intervention to those fans that have wandered off the reality reservation.
The bulk of the Gamecock Nation is tired of the spin and excuses: BEAT YOUR RIVAL!
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