South Carolina-Clemson: More Than a Rivalry

This isn’t your Alabama-Auburn, Ohio State-Michigan, or even Southern Cal-UCLA. It’s not a game that is going to decide who wins their respective conference, much less have any bearing on the National Championship picture.

But for fans of South Carolina and Clemson, all of that is irrelevant. It means everything.

At 7:00 on Saturday night, the 6th ranked Tigers will travel to Columbia to face the 10th ranked Gamecocks. South Carolina currently holds the longest home winning streak in the country, adding its 17th straight in last weekend’s lopsided victory against Coastal Carolina.

While the rivalry doesn’t have quite the same luster on a national scale as the Iron Bowl or some other high profile rivalry games, it means everything within the confines of the Palmetto State. Everything in the past means nothing come kickoff Saturday night.

loserClemson will be trying to end a 4-game skid against the Gamecocks. The last time the Tigers beat South Carolina (31-14 in 2008) Barack Obama had just won his first election for President, Apple had just released the iPhone 3g, and Miley Cyrus was still Hannah Montana. Clemson will be trying to beat an SEC opponent for their third time in a row, continuing a streak that includes a bowl win last year against LSU and an opening day win this year against Georgia. Clemson became the first team outside of the SEC to win two consecutive games against SEC opponents with their win over Georgia, and they would love nothing more than to continue that streak against their rivals.

winnerSouth Carolina will be trying to extend their win streak against Clemson to five, something they have never done since the rivalry began in 1896. And while all focus will be on the field for the players, fans will be glued to their phones throughout, keeping up with what is going on in the other Columbia. If Texas A&M were to beat Missouri, South Carolina will win the SEC East and head to Atlanta. Saturday night could line up as the perfect storm for the Gamecocks, or the perfect disaster. 

This game has everything you would want in a rivalry. Both teams have record-setting quarterbacks, star defensive players, and top-ten rankings. It also pairs two coaches against each other that probably won’t be on each other’s Christmas card lists. Clemson’s Dabo Swinney shared his dislike for the Gamecocks in what has become an infamous rant, claiming that “the real USC is in California and the real Carolina is in Chapel Hill”. South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier has never been one to shy away from a quick jab, including referring to Swinney as that “coach of the team in the upstate that used to beat us a lot but doesn’t beat us much anymore”.

And for fans of both teams, this game is about much more than rankings and stats and the final score. It’s about being able to go to work everyday for a year without having to deal with listening to that other team gloat. It’s about not losing a bet and having to wear that horrible jersey of the other school. It’s about being able to tell all of your friends how much better your team is than theirs. It’s about bragging rights, loyalty, and pride.

The South Carolina-Clemson rivalry is more than just a game. It’s more than a mere 60 minutes of football played on a field once a year. It’s more than just simply one team winning and one team losing. It’s more than the coaches, the players, the fans.

It’s a way of life.

TG

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Top 5 Reasons Why The Braves Move to Cobb County Makes Sense

The Atlanta Braves announcement yesterday that they will be leaving Turner Field after the 2016 season was something that almost no Braves fan saw coming. With most fans focused on the probable departure of All-Star catcher Brian McCann and possibly Tim Hudson, a brand new ballpark was not necessarily on the list of priorities.

But hours after the announcement has slowly sunk in and the initial shock has worn off, the move 13 miles north to Cobb County appears to make a lot of sense on many levels. President John Scheurholz addressed the media yesterday to talk about the move and why he feels it’s a great step forward for the Braves.

While the move wasn’t foreseen, here are the top 5 reasons why the move makes sense:

5. The Braves will have more control over their own stadium

Currently, the Braves have absolutely no ownership in Turner Field. They simply lease the stadium, and their 20 year lease that was signed after the 1996 Olympics ends after the 2016 season. While it is highly unlikely that the Braves will have complete ownership of their new ballpark, they will still own a portion of it, allowing them to have more of a say in the building and upkeep of it.

4. Turner Field needs repairs

While the casual fan that visits Turner Field may not notice, Scheurholz believes that Turner Field is in need of at least $200 million in repairs to its infrastructure (new plumbing, lighting, etc.). Scheurholz also stated that these repairs will do nothing to enhance the fan experience, and that would cost an additional $150 million.  The initial price tag on the new stadium is said to be $672 million, roughly double of what the cost would be to bring Turner Field up to pace with the newest parks in baseball.

3. The atmosphere will be built for baseball

Bullpen Ribhouse

The Bullpen Ribhouse is the only restaurant within walking distance of Turner Field.

While Turner Field is an amazing baseball experience, the surrounding area of the park leaves a lot to be desired.  There are few hotels within walking distance of the park and exactly 1 restaurant.  The surroundings of the new ballpark will be built so that fans will hypothetically be able to park their car at their hotel, walk to dinner, walk to the game, walk to a bar, and then walk back to their hotel.  The goal is for the surroundings of the park to make it a 365 day destination, not just for 81 games.

2. The stadium will be built for baseball

Turner Field was initially built as an 85,000 seat arena for the summer olympics, only being refurbished and downsized for the Braves after the conclusion of the 1996 games.  The new ballpark will seat 42,000 fans, roughly 8,000 less than Turner Field.  Not only will this allow a more intimate experience for fans, but you will see far fewer empty seats during mid-week games in which Turner Field would normally draw 20,000 fans. A ballpark built from the ground up for baseball will allow for the great fan experience that Wren was alluding too.

1. The bulk of season ticket holders are not downtown

Braves season ticket holders

This map, release by the Braves, shows the distribution of season ticket holders and where the new ballpark will be in relation to them.

Yes, there are many Braves fans that live in the downtown Atlanta area. But according to images provided by the Braves, a majority of season ticket holders live in suburbs north of the Atlanta area. The move away from Turner Field will put the Braves closer to these fans, allowing them to get to the ballpark easier.  The location of the new park will also allow for more parking near the stadium, and according to Scheurholz, easier access from major local highways (the park will be located at the intersection of I-75 and I-285).

TG

Now Writing for Chat Sports!

I am excited to announce a new opportunity to write for Chat Sports, a national sports blog.

In addition to my own writing here at Sports Down South, I will be writing additional coverage about Gamecock sports, the Atlanta Braves, and the Atlanta Falcons for Chat Sports.

I am very grateful for this opportunity and look forward to sharing my thoughts with all of you. Check out the link below to see my first article about Gamecock basketball and their big win before they ever took the court.

http://www.chatsports.com/south-carolina-gamecocks/a/Gamecocks-Biggest-Win-Came-Before-TipOff-Saturday-10-174-26

South Carolina’s Road to Atlanta

At the end of the 3rd quarter last night in Columbia, Missouri, Gamecock fans’ hopes of returning to Atlanta for the SEC Championship game were all but dead.

But one quarter and two overtime periods later, senior quarterback Connor Shaw had brought the Gamecocks back from the dead and put them right back into the SEC East race.

With a loss last night, the Gamecocks would have all but been eliminated from contention. They would have been three games behind Missouri and one behind Georgia, needing both teams to lose multiple games in order to get to Atlanta.

But thanks to the heroics of Shaw and a missed chip-shot field goal by Missouri’s Andrew Bagget, the Gamecocks are right back in the hunt for a division championship and only need a little bit of help to get there.

The Gamecocks currently sit one game behind Missouri in the standings, and own the same record in the loss column as Georgia and Florida, although Georgia owns the head to head tie breaker with USC.

Missouri: 7-1 (3-1)
S. Carolina: 6-2 (4-2)
Georgia: 4-3 (3-2)
Florida: 4-3 (3-2)

South Carolina has two remaining SEC games left, next Saturday against Mississippi State and Nov. 16th against Florida, both at home.

Missouri still has four SEC games left: next weekend against Tennessee, Nov. 9th at Kentucky, Nov. 23th at Mississippi, and Nov. 30th at home against Texas A&M.

Georgia plays Florida next weekend in Jacksonville, at Auburn on Nov. 16th, and hosts Kentucky on Nov. 23rd.

After facing Georgia in Jacksonville, the Gators play at home against Vanderbilt before traveling to South Carolina on Nov. 16th.

While the Gamecocks do not quite control their own destiny, they are in a good position to get back to Atlanta.

First, Carolina must win their remaining two SEC games. This would obviously put the Gamecocks ahead of Florida, eliminating the Gators. USC is not eliminated if they were to drop one, but it would be very difficult.

The easiest scenario would be for Georgia to lose one of its remaining games and Missouri to lose at least one more as well. Even if Missouri and South Carolina finish with the same record, the Gamecocks would win the east because they beat Missouri.

If Georgia wins out, then the Gamecocks would have to hope for Missouri to lose to either Tennessee or Kentucky. If all three teams finish with the same conference record but Mizzou’s second loss were to Ole Miss or Texas A&M, then the Tigers would win the east because they would have the best record within the division (both Georgia and South Carolina would have two losses within the division).

If all three teams finish tied and all have two losses within the division, then things get tricky. Assuming that all 3 teams finish 10-2 overall, then there are multiple tie-breakers to decide a champion, including a scenario where the highest ranked BCS team would win it if they are at least five spots ahead of the team that beat them. A complete list of all the tie breakers can be found at the link below:

http://www.secdigitalnetwork.com/NEWS/tabid/473/Article/134195/sec-divisional-tie-breaker.aspx

The good news for Gamecock fans is that both Missouri and Georgia have very tough games remaining on their conference slate. Missouri will have a difficult time getting past both Ole Miss in Oxford and Johnny Football and the Aggies to finish up the season. While Georgia may get by Florida, they will have a tough time matching up with Auburn’s offense.

So no, the Gamecocks have not won the east yet. But they took a huge step forward with last night’s comeback. Gamecock fans, don’t make reservations just yet. But make sure you don’t make plans for December 7th, unless they involve the Georgia Dome.

Sports Down South now on Twitter, teaming up with Wicked Spur

Sports Down South is now on Twitter @sprtsdwnsouth!  Sports Down South has teamed up with the website Wicked Spur to cover more sports and more news.  You can still count on primarily South Carolina Gamecocks and Atlanta Braves thoughts and opinions, but now you will be able to get information on the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, and Charlotte Bobcats as well.  This is an exciting step for myself and for Sports Down South and I hope you all will join along for the ride.

-TG

The Braves Are Here to Stay

The Atlanta Braves came into the 2013 season with a chip on their shoulder but with much of the national media against them.  While the signing of BJ and Justin Upton created some buzz around the Braves, you would be far fetched to find too many reporters outside of Turner Field that felt the Braves could beat out the “feared” Washington Nationals in the NL East.

Yet with 5 games left in the regular season, not only do the Braves already have the East wrapped up, but they currently are tied with the Cardinals for the best record in the National League.

The Braves have dominated the East all season, holding the top spot in the division for every day but one.  Led by a pitching staff with the best ERA in the Majors (3.19), a bullpen with the best ERA in the majors (2.45), and an offense that is finally finding some timely hitting with the resurgence of Jason Heyward in the leadoff spot and Justin Upton (not to mention the consistency of players like Chris Johnson and Freddie Freeman), the Braves have put themselves in a position to make a deep postseason run.

While many national analysts fear the Braves are not built for the playoffs, pointing to the number of strikeouts and unproductive outs, Atlanta has posted a winning record against every team that will be playing in the National League playoffs (4-3 against Cincinnati, 4-3 against Pittsburgh, 4-3 against St. Louis, 5-2 against Los Angeles).

And the scary part for the rest of the National League is one that should put joy in all Braves fan’s hearts: the Braves are going to be good for a long time.  The average age of the Braves’ roster is only 28.1 years, and eight out of nine position players have multiple years left on their contracts.  Here’s a look at each position for the Braves and how they will be filled for the next few years.

Catcher:

It will be very difficult for the Braves to resign All-Star catcher Brain McCann at the end of this season.  As a free agent, McCann will most likely take more money from an American League team that will offer him the chance to play everyday as a catcher and a DH.  The catching role will most likely be filled by Evan Gattis, the 26 year old rookie who has burst onto the scene this year batting .237 with 20 homeruns, and minor leaguer Christian Bethancourt.  Bethancourt has been praised for his defense and athleticism, but his bat has hindered his progress through the minors.   Gattis is under contract until the 2018 season and will most likely see a raise from his minimum salary of $490,000.  Also under contract for the 2014 season is veteran catcher Gerald Laird, who will see some playing time and continue to act as a mentor for the two younger catchers.

First Base:

Freddie Freeman has burst onto the scene in 2013 as one of the premier first baseman in the National League.  His  .315 average and 106 RBI have Freeman in the discussion for MVP.  At only 24 years old, Freeman looks to be the face of the Atlanta Braves for the foreseeable future along with Jason Heyward.  Signed through the 2016 season, the Braves will enjoy at least 3 more seasons with their productive first baseman.

Second Base:

If there was a hole in the Braves infield, it would be at second base.  For all of the great defense, Dan Uggla has failed to live up to the 5-year, $62 million contract he signed in January of 2011.  His current .182 average is the worst of his three seasons in Atlanta and his 22 homeruns are the second worst total of his career.  He has shown signs of promise this season, and he remains under contract with the Braves through the 2015 season.  Before having season ending surgery, infielder Ramiro Pena was hitting .278 and looked to be a viable option for the Braves during Uggla’s struggles.  Not a free agent until 2017, look for Pena to vie for more playing time if Uggla continues to struggle.

Shortstop:

Andrelton Simmons has become one of the best defensive shortstops in all of baseball in 2013, and his bat has also been a pleasant surprise for the Braves.  Simmons has hit 17 homeruns in his first full season in the Majors while compiling  an average of .247. Signed through the 2018 season, the Braves will continue to lean on Simmons as a key piece to their infield.

Third Base:

When the Braves traded for Justin Upton this past offseason, the addition of Chris Johnson in the deal was merely an afterthought for many Atlanta fans.  Yet Johnson has proved to be almost if not more valuable than Upton, battling for the National Batting title with a .327 average.  Johnson, at 28 years old, is signed through the 2016 season.

Outfield:

It can be argued that the Braves may have the most dynamic outfield in all of baseball.  The struggles of center fielder BJ Upton at the plate have been well documented, but his defense has never been in question.  Assuming that Upton can turn his offensive struggles around in the coming seasons, Jason Heyward can remain healthy, and Justin Upton can remain consistent, it stands to reason that Atlanta will continue to have one of the best outfields in baseball.  BJ is signed through the 2017 season, Justin through 2015, and Heyward through 2015.  Add into the mix the resurgence of Jordan Schafer (signed through 2016) and the possibility of Evan Gattis continuing to get playing time in the left field, and you have a Braves outfield that will be very dangerous for at least the next two years.

Pitching:

When the Braves won 14 straight division titles, they mainly relied on pitching to get them to the postseason.  This 2013 club is no different, leading the Majors in both overall and bullpen ERA.  Kris Medlen (14-12, 3.24 ERA), Mike Minor (13-8, 3.22 ERA), and Julio Teheran (13-8. 3.09 ERA) have all had very impressive seasons and will all be in Atlanta for at least the next few years (Medlen signed through 2015, Minor through 2017, Teheran through 2018)

And the Braves’ bullpen has continued to dominate opposing hitters, led by closer Craig Kimbrel (49 saves) who is signed through the 2016 season.  Pitchers Luis Avilan, Luis Ayala, David Carpenter, and Jordan Walden have all stepped up to fill the shoes of the injured Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty.

TG

South Carolina Football Preview: Week 2

South Carolina @ Georgia – September 7 –  4:30 – ESPN

In the most highly anticipated matchup of the college football weekend, sixth ranked South Carolina travels to Athens, Georgia to take on the 12th ranked Bulldogs between the Hedges.  The Gamecocks will be looking to win two straight in Athens for the first time since joining the SEC in 1992 (won 45-42 in 2011) and will be looking for their fourth straight win over Georgia after last year’s strong performance that resulted in a 35-7 win in Columbia.

About Georgia

The Bulldogs, coming off a season in which they were five yards away from a trip to play for the National Championship, are coming off a week 1 loss at Clemson in which their defense failed to ever stop Tajh Boyd and the Tiger’s high-powered offense.  The Bulldogs must improve in a variety of areas if they hope to claim an early spot in the competitive SEC East.

Senior quarterback Aaron Murray has been criticized for his poor play in big games (other than last year’s SEC Championship in Atlanta) and last week’s performance against Clemson did nothing to improve that image.  Although he completed 69 percent of his passes against a young Clemson defense, Murray seemed off for the majority of the night as the Georgia offense only converted 4 of 14 third downs.

The running game, led by Todd Gurley, is what Georgia is going to continue to rely on against a USC defense that held North Carolina to only 99 yards on the ground and 2.8 yards/rush.  Gurley was Georgia’s shining light against Clemson, rushing for 158 yards and 2 touchdowns, including a 75 yard TD run.  Gurley, along with sophomore Keith Marshall, will look for some sort of revenge after being held to 76 yards combined last year in Columbia.

Defensively, the return of safety Josh Harvey-Clemons should boost a secondary that allowed Tajh Boyd to throw 277 yards and 3 touchdowns last week.  The defensive unit most improve drastically against the run as well after giving up nearly 200 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Tigers.

What South Carolina will have to do to win

In their season opener, the Gamecocks were never in doubt against North Carolina, opening up an early 17 point lead and never looking back.  Senior quarterback Connor Shaw, while not playing great, played well enough to lead the offense to 27 points, including an early 65-yard-touchdown pass to sophomore receiver Shaq Roland.

South Carolina should be able to run the ball with consistency behind their large offensive line, although they will most likely be without starting center Cody Waldrop.  Waldrop sprained his foot in last week’s win against North Carolina and has not been able to practice all week, meaning redshirt freshman Clayton Stadnik will most likely see his first career start.  A consistent running game behind back Mike Davis and the mobility of Shaw will be key if the Gamecocks hope to start the year 2-0.

Defensively, the Gamecocks will be able to get pressure on Murray all game.  Jadeveon Clowney has listened to the national media talk about how he took plays off and didn’t play well against the Tarheels, and he will be ready to go full force Saturday.  In the secondary, Victor Hampton should be good to go after getting banged up in week one, which bodes well for a defense that held NC to 10 points.

How it will end up

The odds are against the Gamecocks for the mere fact that it is difficult to beat anyone in the SEC four times in a row.  Yet the talent is with them, and it will show up between the hedges.  The Gamecocks will be able to control the clock by keeping the ball on the ground, which will be able to open up plays downfield for Shaw.  Georgia will have its big plays, but it will be difficult for Murray to ever feel comfortable with the pressure from the Gamecock’s defensive line.  South Carolina will move to 2-0 on the year and take an early stronghold on the SEC East.

Final: South Carolina 24, Georgia 14

TG

South Carolina 2013 Football Preview: Game 1

The South Carolina Gamecocks are in the midst of a run that has never been matched in their program’s history.  Back-to-back 11 win seasons, 31 wins in three years, and 4 straight wins against in-state rival Clemson have propelled the Gamecocks from the bottom of the college football world to where no one thought they would ever be: an SEC power.  With a returning nucleus of key players such as Heisman hopeful Jadeveon Clowney, quarterbacks Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson, and wide receiver Bruce Ellington, the Gamecocks have again found themselves in the preseason top 10.  Lee Corso once said that Steve Spurrier will never win the SEC at South Carolina, yet the “Ole Ball Coach” has the personnel, the attitude, and the schedule to make a serious run.  Over the next two weeks leading up to the season opener against North Carolina, I will preview all 12 of the Gamecocks’ regular season games, beginning with the battle with the Tarheels on August 29th.

North Carolina @ South Carolina – August 29th – 6:00 – ESPN

In the first meeting since South Carolina escaped Chapel Hill with a 21-15 in 2008 (the Gamecocks led 21-3 at halftime before North Carolina made things interesting late), North Carolina travels to Columbia to open the 2013 NCAA football season in front of a national television audience on ESPN.

About UNC

The Tar Heels, coming off an 8-4 season in which they would have represented the Coastal division in the ACC Championship game if not for penalties issued due to infractions from the 2010 season, hope to improve under second year coach Larry Fedora.  North Carolina lost three games last year by a combined 9 points, yet have lost two key offensive players, running back Giovani Bernard and guard Jonathan Cooper.  Cooper anchored an offensive line that allowed Bernard to rush for 1228 yards and 12 TD’s, while Bernard added 5 receiving TD’s and returned two punts to the end zone.

But for all the Tar heels lose in the running game, they return in their passing game.  Senior Bryn Renner is coming off of a 28 TD/7 INT year and was a third team preseason ACC selection.  With preseason first team ACC tight end Eric Ebron as his primary target, Renner will look to continue off of last year’s success and start off quickly against a USC defense that brings in one of the most dynamic players in the country in DE Jadeveon Clowney.

Defensively, the Tarheels lose DT Sylvester Williams and LB Kevin Reddick, yet return all four starters to a secondary that picked off 14 passes in 2012.  North Carolina will have to find playmakers though and improve after giving up 389 yards per game in 2012.

What South Carolina will have to do to win

Defensively, South Carolina must find a way to stop the passing game of UNC and get pressure on Renner.  The Gamecock’s young linebacking core will be tested early, but the defensive line, anchored by Jadeveon Clowney, must be quick off the line to counteract a UNC passing game that will focus on getting the ball out quickly.

Offensively, the Gamecocks shouldn’t have any issues moving the ball downfield.  While UNC does return all four starters in the secondary, an inexperience defensive line and linebacking core should allow for the Gamecocks running back duo of Brandon Wilds and Mike Davis to start off strong as they look to replace Marcus Lattimore.  Both Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson will see playing time, and both should be able to find some holes in a defense that gave up close to 400 yards in 2012.

How it will end up

The Tarheels will try everything they can to prove they can hang with the other Carolina from the SEC.  A confident Renner will be able to find some success early, but that won’t be enough to stop Clowney and company.  And the Gamecock offense should be able to find some success against the UNC defense.  It will be close throughout the first half, but the Gamecocks will pull away late to start 2013 1-0.

Final:  South Carolina 34, North Carolina 17

TG