Wrapping up his second season as South Carolina’s head football coach, Will Muschamp’s quest to rebuild the Gamecocks into an SEC  contender is ahead of schedule.

Picked to finish only fourth in the SEC East, his players exceeded expectations with five conference wins. USC (8-3, 5-3 SEC) was even in contention for the division title until a 24-10 loss to Georgia three weeks ago.

Now, with Clemson (10-1, 7-1 ACC) visiting Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday, the Gamecocks have another chance at earning a signature win.

“You don’t need a lot of extra motivation at the end of the day,” said Muschamp. “If you don’t get excited about playing your archrival, then something is wrong with you. That’s the way I look at it.”

The fact Clemson is looking to extend its winning streak in the series to four in a row, including a 56-7 rout last year, should light an extra fire under his players, Muschamp said. So should the fact that the game has been picked for a national primetime telecast on ESPN.

That may even explain why so many national college football writers have picked South Carolina to win, choosing to make the game their upset special of the week. I’m not that reckless with my picks, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the game qualifies as an instant classic.

Of course, Rivalry Weekend’s biggest upset occurred Friday when Pittsburgh stunned No. 2 Miami, 24-14.

That’s the loss Swinney will talk to his players about since the Tigers will face Miami in the ACC Championship Game next Saturday in Charlotte. He’ll remind his players that the Hurricanes were undefeated until they dropped their guard and were sucker punched by the Panthers. He may even remind his players that Pitt did the same thing to them last November.

“It’s about winning the game and this team having an opportunity to continue on because its playoff football for us every week,” said Swinney, who knows a second loss now could deny Clemson one of the four spots in the College Football Playoff. “We’ve got a challenge on our hands with South Carolina. They’ve gotten better as the year has gone.”

Swinney, who played and coached at Alabama, said he believes the Clemson-South Carolina rivalry is as intense as the Iron Bowl clash between Auburn and Alabama.

 “Zero difference in this state. Zero. Year-round, that’s all people talk about. It’s just different logos. It’s the same type of intensity, emotion,” Swinney said.

The strength of both teams is their defenses, but Clemson has a decided edge on the defensive front. Not only are they difficult to run on, but the Tigers have one of the nation’s fiercest pass rushes.

If the Gamecocks are going to keep the game close into the fourth quarter, quarterback Jake Bentley will have to be effective keeping plays alive with his legs. He’s passed for nearly 2,500 yards and 15 touchdowns and run for another six touchdowns. But he’s also tossed nine interceptions, and if he’s turnover prone against the Tigers, South Carolina could be staring at another huge lategame deficit.

Meanwhile, Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant has been efficient, and occasionally explosive, for the Tigers. He’s passed for 2,200 yards and 10 touchdowns with five interceptions.

The Tigers are scoring an average of 10 points more per game than the Gamecocks – 35.3 to 25.4. Meanwhile, both teams rank among the top 20 teams in the nation in scoring defense with the Tigers at No. 3 while allowing 13.9 points per game and the Gamecocks ranking No. 20 at 19.6.

IN THE SPOTLIGHT

(All times Central)

Friday’s games

Pittsburgh 24, Miami 14

(Pittsburgh improves to 5-7, 3-5 ACC; Miami 10-1, 7-1 ACC)

Virginia Tech 10, at Virginia 0

(Virginia Tech improves to 9-3, 5-3 ACC; Virginia 6-6, 3-5)

Saturday’s games

Florida State (4-6) at Florida (4-6), Saturday 11 a.m. CT, ESPN

Georgia (10-1) at Georgia Tech (5-5), Saturday 11 a.m. CT, ABC

Louisville (7-4) at Kentucky (7-4), Saturday 11 a.m. CT, SEC Network

Boston College (6-5) at Syracuse (4-7), Saturday 11:20 a.m., ACC Network

Duke (5-6) at Wake Forest (7-4), Saturday 11:30 CT, ACC Network

North Carolina (3-8) at N.C. State (7-4), Saturday 2:30 p.m. CT, ESPNU

Clemson (10-1) at South Carolina (8-3), Saturday 6:30 p.m., ESPN

FAB FIVE

1 Miami (10-0, 7-0): Last Week – W, Virginia, 44-28. The Impact – Hurricanes twice rallied from 14-point deficits, scoring pair of touchdowns in seven seconds for first comeback and then finishing game with 30 unanswered points. Malik Rosier passed for three touchdowns and ran for another as UM extended nation’s longest win streak to 15 games. Mark Richt now needs to make sure his players don’t overlook Pitt since ’Canes are already set to face Clemson for ACC title on Dec. 2.

  1. Clemson (10-1, 7-1): Last Week – W, The Citadel, 61-3. The Impact – Tigers scored on 10 of 13 possessions as Dabo Swinney emptied his bench early and often against an outmatched FCS opponent in The Citadel. Fifteen players caught passes and nine carried the football, but the rout wasn’t enough to prevent Miami from taking the No. 2 spot in the CFP rankings. That’s a battle that will be settled next week, though. This weekend the Tigers are looking to win their fourth straight over rival South Carolina after losing five in a row.
  1. Wake Forest (7-4, 4-3): Last Week – W, N.C. State, 30-24. The Impact – Demetrius Kemp’s forced fumble and end zone recovery allowed the Demon Deacons to win their fourth conference game and continue N.C. State’s late-season slump. It was also the Deacons’ first win over a Top 25 opponent since 2011. John Wolford and Tabari Hines connected on three touchdown passes of 21, 7 and 18 yards and Wolford finished with 247 yards passing.

 

  1. N. C. State (7-4, 5-2): Last Week – L, at Wake Forest, 30-24. The Impact –  Since Dave Doeren announced his goal was still to win 10 games after losing at Notre Dame, N.C. State has lost two more. Three of the Wolfpack’s four losses have been by seven or fewer points. But the loss to Wake Forest was particularly painful since the Wolfpack held a 22-minute edge in time of possession and ran 94 plays in compiling more than 500 yards.
  1. Louisville (7-4, 4-4): Last Week – W, Syracuse, 56-10. The Impact – Lamar Jackson continued his assault on the school record book, compiling 381 yards and scoring four touchdowns. Jackson racked up his 11th consecutive 300-yard game to become the Cardinals’ career yardage leader with 12,474, which is third best in the ACC. Tailback Malik Williams had a career-high 180 rushing yards on only nine carries, including TD runs of 46 and 56 yards.

 

THE PACK

  1. Virginia Tech (8-3, 4-3): Last Week – W, Pittsburgh, 20-14. The Impact – Hokies’ defense kept Panthers out of end zone on final drive despite Pitt having a first-and-goal at the 1-yard line. Cam Phillips had 117 yards on eight catches to increase his school record to 2,981 receiving yards. The win allowed Justin Fuente’s team to end two-game skid.

 

  1. Boston College (6-5, 3-4): Last Week – W, Connecticut 39-16. The Impact – Playing at Fenway, BC became bowl eligible after winning for fourth time in five weeks. A win over Syracuse would allow Eagles to break even in ACC after an 0-3 start in conference. A.J. Dillon rushed for 200 yards and two touchdowns covering 48 and 53 yards.
  2. Florida State (4-6, 3-5): Last Week – W, Delaware State, 77-6. The Impact – FSU played MEAC school and it wasn’t nearby Florida A&M. Seminoles nearly tied school record for largest margin of victory. If FSU beats Florida Saturday, earning a bowl bid will become mere formality since Louisiana-Monroe comes to Tallahassee for a rescheduled game on Dec. 2. Receiver Justin Motlow became the first Seminole Tribe of Florida product to score a touchdown for FSU.
  3. Virginia (6-5, 3-4): Last Week – L, at Miami, 44-28. The Impact – After 5-1 start to season, the Cavaliers have lost four of five. Still, Bronco Mendenhall’s squad should be able to relax heading into Saturday’s home game against rival Va Tech since a bowl berth is already in the bag. Against UM, Cavs couldn’t run the football, finishing with 55 yards on 28 carries, including 23-yarder by Jordan Ellis on final play. They’ll need to be more productive that against Hokies.
  1. Syracuse (4-7, 2-5): Last Week – L, at Louisville, 56-10. The Impact – The schedule has taken its toll on Dino Babers’ Orange. Since upsetting Clemson Oct 13, the Orange has played road games at Miami, Florida State and Louisville and had a home date against Wake Forest. Syracuse lost all four contests with Louisville shredding the Orange defense for 727 yards.
  2. Duke (5-6, 2-5): Last Week – W, Georgia Tech, 43-20. The Impact – David Cutcliffe’s Blue Devils, who had been held to combined 46 points in previous four games, racked up 43 while shutting out Georgia Tech in the second half. The win ended a six-game skid by Duke and revives the Blue Devils’ hopes of earning a bowl berth by beating Wake Forest. For that to happen, Blue Devils will have to be exceptional on defense.

 

THE UNPROVEN

  1. Georgia Tech (5-5, 4-4): Last Week – L, at Duke, 43-20. The Impact – Yellow Jackets have lost three of their last four games and likely would have to upset Georgia Saturday to become bowl eligible. There’s a slight chance they could get an invitation with five wins since they only played 11 games this season. But that’s a gamble Paul Johnson would rather not take. After trip to Athens on Saturday, Johnson may regret schools’ decision not to reschedule or replace game against UCF that was postponed by Hurricane Irma.
  2. Pittsburgh (4-7, 2-5): Last Week – L, at Virginia Tech, 20-14. The Impact – Panthers’ chances of staying in contention for bowl bid ended when Virginia Tech made a late goal-line stand. Pat Narduzzi’s team had a first down at the 1-yard line after Kenny Pickett connected with Jester Weah on 74-yard pass with less than 30 seconds remaining. But the threat ended with a pass breakup in the end zone with three seconds left and tailback Darrin Hall being dropped for a 3-yard loss on the final play. Hall finished with four yards on 15 carries and Pitt gained just 55 yards on 30 carries.
  1. North Carolina (3-8, 1-6): Last Week – W, Western Carolina, 65-10. The Impact – It took all season but Larry Fedora’s Tar Heels finally won back-to-back games. After falling behind 7-0, UNC responded with six consecutive touchdown drives, including three scores in less than three minutes. Sophomore quarterback Nathan Elliott tossed four touchdown passes in the first half. Tar Heels had a 231-32 edge in yardage in second quarter while scoring 35 of their points.

BEARD’S PICKS

(Predicted winners in bold caps)

Friday’s games

Pittsburgh 24, MIAMI 14 — STUNNING UPSET

Virginia Tech 10, at VIRGINIA 0

Saturday’s games

Florida State at FLORIDA

GEORGIA at Georgia Tech

LOUISVILLE at Kentucky

BOSTON COLLEGE at Syracuse

Duke at WAKE FOREST

North Carolina at N.C. STATE

CLEMSON at South Carolina

Last Week: 7-2

Overall: 69-21 (76.6%)

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