Clemson, South Carolina seniors at crossroads


Clemson, South Carolina seniors at crossroads

CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) It's something none of the seniors at Clemson or South Carolina expected - going winless or undefeated in the rivalry.

But now that the 13th-ranked Gamecocks' upperclassmen can go 4-0 in the series, they're looking to complete the sweep. Meanwhile, the senior for No. 12 Clemson want to avoid becoming just the second class to leave campus without a win against the hated Gamecocks.

``I grew up 15 minutes from Williams-Brice and it's been awful going home these past three years,'' said Clemson senior center Dalton Freeman, from Pelion. ``I'm definitely looking to change that as well.''

South Carolina's longest win streak in the rivalry is from 1951-54.

Clemson players have felt perfection over South Carolina several times in the past, most recently with a four-game win streak from 2002 through 2005. The Tigers have a 65-40-5 edge since the rivalry began in 1896, including 10 of 12 before South Carolina's recent surge.

Gamecocks senior defensive end Devin Taylor said attitudes changed three years ago when highly regarded players bought into the potential they saw at South Carolina. Top-rated prospects like Stephon Gilmore, Marcus Lattimore and Jadeveon Clowney all picked the Gamecocks and the turnaround began.

A 34-17 win at Williams-Brice Stadium in 2009 ended Clemson's run and the Gamecocks followed that up with victories the next two seasons, 29-7 in 2010 and 34-13 last year.

``I think as far as that goes, each team kind of put out goals throughout the season,'' Taylor said. ``It's one of those things we want to do, not just for ourselves but our fans who care about this.''

Clemson's seniors care plenty, too, and have grown weary with the questions and critical comments that typically follow after a rivalry loss.

``There's a lot at stake,'' Freeman said. ``We've done a ton in this senior class to take the lid off this program. One of them has not been beating South Carolina. ``So we need to accomplish that and put ourselves in position of being in a BCS game.''

The Tigers (10-1) have a chance at an at-large BCS bid with their first 11-win season since their 12-0, national championship campaign in 1981.

Clemson looked a strong bet to end the South Carolina streak in the middle of last season with an 8-0 record and the buzz of a national title contender. Then the Tigers dropped three of their last four, including the embarrassing defeat at the Gamecocks where garnet-and-black clad fans screamed them off the field when it ended.

While that loss clung to them throughout the offseason, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney taught his team to play to a standard instead of an opponent.

The results are crystal clear: A team that looked worn out and lost at the end of 2011 ran 102 plays in a 62-48 win over North Carolina State last week.

``Last year we felt like we were running out of gas at the end,'' Freeman said. ``This year we feel like we have at least half a tank.''

South Carolina's players always seem to find enough fuel to beat Clemson, no matter the circumstances. A season ago, the Gamecocks lost senior quarterback Stephen Garcia to dismissal and star tailback Marcus Lattimore to a knee injury, yet still routed the Tigers.

South Carolina will again be without Lattimore, lost to a gruesome knee injury against Tennessee last month. Coach Steve Spurrier will again call on senior backup Kenny Miles, a key performer in two of the last three wins over Clemson.

Miles rushed for 114 yards on 17 carries in the 2009 victory, then had 71 yards a season ago as the Gamecocks controlled the clock and kept Clemson's fast-paced offense off the field.

Senior linebacker Shaq Wilson says the Gamecocks don't dwell on past success or counting up victories from earlier years. The Clemson is the biggest there is because it's the next one on the schedule. ``For us, there isn't much pressure,'' he said. ``We're just going out there having fun playing football.''

It's the attitude Spurrier loves to see from his players. He thinks improved talent and coaching have led to the team's recent rivalry success.

``Obviously, our guys have played very well against them the last three years,'' Spurrier said. ``We'll just have to wait and see if we can do it again this year.''

Swinney knows his seniors must lead the way for Clemson to have success as they did a year ago in winning the school's first ACC title in 20 years.

``The list of things they haven't gotten done is very short,'' he said. Beating South Carolina is ``a big one for them.''

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Redskins' schedule "rest disparity" is very fair in 2018

Redskins' schedule "rest disparity" is very fair in 2018

The NFL started taking into account a new factor when putting together its schedule this year. The concept is called rest disparity. It stems from a complaint made by the Giants last year. And, of course, when the Giants have a cold, the NFL sneezes and immediately does whatever it takes to cure the cold. 

Here is how Peter King laid it out this morning on the MMQB:

Last year, I heard the Giants were not pleased with their schedule because they felt they were too often playing teams more rested than they were. In consecutive October weeks, they played teams coming off byes, for instance. The NFL calculated a figure for every team based on the number of combined days of rest for their foes or for the team, calculating, for instance, in those two weeks, the Giants were a minus-14 (minus-seven for each of the foes, Seattle and Denver, coming off byes). In all, by my math, the Giants were a league-worst minus-22 in “rest disparity.”

So the schedule makers worked to minimize the rest disparity this year. According to King, the worst rest disparity in the league this year is minus-11. The Giants are minus-eight. 

The question that Redskins fans will have immediately here is if the Giants’ rest disparity was reduced at the expense of the team in burgundy and gold. The answer that will surprise many is no. 

The Redskins rest disparity in 2018 will be either minus-one or zero. The variance is due to the possibility that their Week 16 game in Tennessee will be flexed to a Saturday game (see details here). If the game stays on Sunday, they will be at minus-one in rest disparity. If it gets moved, they will have had exactly as much rest over the course of the season as did their opponents, in aggregate. 

If you're interested in the nitty-gritty, here is how it breaks down. In eight or nine of their games, they will have had the same amount of rest as their opponents. They play one game coming off of their bye, a Monday night game in New Orleans. The Saints play the previous Sunday, giving Washington a plus-seven in days of rest. That is canceled out when they play the Falcons in Week 9 after Atlanta’s bye. 

Due to their Thanksgiving game, they get three extra days off going into their Week 13 Monday night game in Philadelphia. Two weeks later the Jaguars will have those three extra days of rest when they host the Redskins, having played on Thursday in Week 14.

They lose a day relative to their opponents coming off of those Monday night games against the Saints and Eagles. The Redskins get an extra day prior to visiting the Giants in Week 8 as New York has a Monday night game in Week 7. 

So far, that comes to minus-one in rest disparity. That will remain in place if they play the Titans on Sunday, December 23. If the game is flexed to Saturday, they will gain a day of rest on the Eagles in Week 17, zeroing out the rest disparity for the season. 

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Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

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Will the Caps be able to take advantage of home ice in Game 5?

Will the Caps be able to take advantage of home ice in Game 5?

There's a saying in sports that goes, "A series doesn't start until a team loses at home." For the Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets, their series won't start until someone wins at home.

Four games into the series, the road team has won every game. Columbus took Game 1 and Game 2 from Capital One Arena and the Caps answered back by winning Game 3 and Game 4 in Ohio.

"We came [to Columbus] to try to get the first one," Barry Trotz said after Thursday's win. "Did that. We came here to get the second one. Did that. All we've done is just got on even terms."

Now the series is a best of three with two of those final three games in Washington, but how much of an advantage does that really give the Caps?

"We've got to make sure that we're ready to go," Trotz said. "I think we have been since we got here. We've just got to do it at home."

The various playoff struggles the Caps have suffered in the Alex Ovechkin era have been well-documented to this point. One particularly maddening issue is the team's struggles to win at home. Since 2008, the first year the Ovechkin-led Caps made the playoffs, the team is just 28-25 in home playoff games. Since 2015, Trotz's first season as head coach, the Caps are 12-10 in Washington.

Part of that is just the nature of hockey. Upsets are prevalent in the playoffs in the NHL and home-ice advantage does not mean as much as it does in other sports. But it should mean more than 28-25.

Besides having the crowd on your side, home ice also provides matchup advantages. The home team gets the second line change at home, meaning during a stoppage in play the home coach gets the opportunity to see who the opponent puts on the ice before making his own change. For the Caps, this means getting Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen on the ice against Artemi Panarin.

Trotz has matched his top shutdown pair against Columbus' top line all series long. According to Natural Stat Trick, when Niskanen was on the ice in Game 4 he held Panarin's Corsi For percentage to 36.36. When Niskanen was not on the ice, Panarin's percentage shot up to 71.43. 

Theoretically, it should be much easier for Trotz to get those favorable matchups at home. Now all the Caps have to do is take advantage.

"Our home record hasn't been really great in the last little stretch at the end of the season here and obviously the first two games of the playoffs," Trotz said. "We owe it to our fans, we owe it to ourselves to take advantage of that."