Will Muschamp got his first real sense for the South Carolina-Clemson rivalry the day he was announced as head coach in December.
He then got a taste of the fire of the rivalry on a speaking tour of Gamecocks Clubs around the state. Fans told him exactly what they thought of the Tigers.
“I can’t say any of that publicly,” Muschamp said. “I’ll get in trouble. I’m being serious.”
He’s getting his first go at Clemson week, and it was clear as he spoke at his news conference Tuesday that he wasn’t going to say anything off-script. He remained calm and complimentary, not coming close to a whiff to the animosity surrounding the rivalry while acknowledging the passion therein.
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“Being here on your first day, you’re walking by Carolina people, they talk about beating Clemson,” Muschamp said. “You hear that very quickly. You understand that, you understand the importance of the game in our state. And we talk about winning our state every day.”
He has a bit of his own history with the Tigers. He played them twice as a player and fondly recalled a key forced fumble in Georgia’s 1991 upset of No. 6 Clemson. He met current Tigers coach Dabo Swinney at a dinner leading up to the Chick-fil-A Bowl in 2007.
Muschamp at prior coaching stops even recruited a few of the Tigers’ current stalwarts such as wide receivers Ray-Ray McCloud, Deon Cain, Artavis Scott, Deshaun Watson and Dexter Lawrence.
But he said this Saturday won’t necessarily win the state on the recruiting trial.
“It’s about seasons, it’s about opponent, it’s about comfort, feel,” Muschamp said. “It’s all of those things. I’ve never felt like one game ever determined anyone’s decision making. The ones that do, you probably don’t want them.”
Still, a win against the Tigers in Year 1 would make a splash, especially with the long odds the Gamecocks are currently facing as 23.5-point underdogs.
The staff hasn’t talked to the team about the history of the rivalry yet (they spoke about recent games against the Vols before facing Tennessee), but Muschamp said his coaches plan to do that later in the week.
He admitted he didn’t have much of a feel for Clemson-South Carolina before arriving, but it was something he was keenly aware of.
“This is always a game you pay attention to as far as being in the Southeast,” Muschamp said. “It’s one of the great rivalries in the Southeast. ... You always enjoy the Thanksgiving games.”