South Carolina and Clemson Meet Again
Looking to identify the best rivalry in any sport is a dangerous effort. In case I needed a reminder of that this week, it came when a Baseball America editor tweeted out a column about how South Carolina and Clemson's dislike for each other on the diamond "has evolved into college baseball’s best rivalry." And then I, of course, had to put a finer point on it.
I didn't know there was ever another rivalry where baseball matters as much as S.C.-Clemson— Brandon Larrabee (@TeamSpeedKills) February 27, 2014
That drew protests from other fans, mostly LSU fans who wanted to point out their storied rivalry with Tulane. Which is fine, if they want to brag about a rivalry with Tulane.
But it's hard to argue this point: Over the last few years, South Carolina-Clemson has become the most significant rivalry in the sport. In 2010, South Carolina needed two straight wins to stay alive in the College World Series -- and got those two wins en route to the school's first national championship in a major team sport.
In 2012, over the protests of even some impartial observers, South Carolina and Clemson were paired in the Columbia Regional. Personally, I had no problem with that -- and South Carolina once again beat Clemson twice to advance to the Super Regionals (and eventually to the College World Series, where the Gamecocks' streak of back-to-back national titles was broken by Arizona). It happened again last year, when the Tigers were once again sent to Columbia over the objections of some, this time failing to face South Carolina at all because they couldn't get past Liberty.
This year's edition of the regular-season rivalry -- a game in Columbia, then a game in Greenville and then a game at Clemson proper -- kicks off this evening. It will be our first real test of how good the undefeated Gamecocks are after seven outings against underwhelming opponents. Which is significant, no matter whether or not you think this weekend is another edition of the sport's best rivalry.
Florida, Mississippi State Take on
Midmajors B1G Teams
For a pair of SEC teams that are slumping to varying degrees in the early part of the season, there might be no better cure than a visit from a couple of teams from the Up North Conference. Enter Illinois and Michigan State for games that could either turn out to be badly-needed bounce-back performances or crushing blows to their Top 25 rankings.
Florida might have already done that with its loss Thursday night to Florida Gulf Coast University -- also their Saturday opponent -- but anything less than winning both games against Illinois, and maybe the rematch with FGCU, will probably seal the deal. (Really, Illinois is a pretty dreadful team this year, even by B1G standards.)
The Western Division Bulldogs, meanwhile, are hosting the Diamond Classic presented by Polk's Meat Products, if you were thinking that college baseball is free of the sort of product placement that plagues college football. In addition to a pair of games against Michigan State, Mississippi State will play two against Eastern Illinois. The Bulldogs need a 3-1 weekend to stave off questions about their viability as a contender for Omaha.
Stanford hasn't particularly distinguished itself as a baseball team this year, but it also hasn't proven to be a bad team yet -- the Cardinal are 4-4, but all four losses were against either Rice or Texas. But Stanford is still a Pac-12 program with a decent tradition acting as what should have been the first real test for the Commodores.
"Should have been" being the operative phrase in that sentence. Vanderbilt, the team pegged as most likely to battle with South Carolina for the SEC East title, has suddenly dropped two straight games. Which might not be that big a deal, except that the games were home contests against Western Kentucky and Evansville. Beating another nerdy school from a baseball-friendly conference might not restore all the luster the Commodores lost in the midweek, but it can't hurt.
The first game in the Clemson-South Carolina series will be televised on Fox Sports South, for those who get it, at 7 p.m. ET. The second game "airs" on ESPN3 at 2 p.m. ET Saturday. Alabama's Saturday game with Louisiana-Lafayette is also on the Tres at 3 p.m. ET. Florida's game with Illinois this evening goes onto Fox Sports Florida at 3 p.m. ET. The Mountain West webcast will have Texas A&M's three game series at Fresno State, airing at 9:35 p.m. ET on Friday, 5:05 p.m. ET on Saturday and 3:05 p.m. ET on Sunday.