COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -Steve Spurrier likes his teams to finish strong.
It counts even more with South Carolina fans, who end just about every season against in-state rival Clemson.
``It's always helpful to win your last game. It's always helpful. For whatever reason, people remember the last game you play a lot more than maybe you played five weeks, four weeks earlier,'' Spurrier said.
There haven't been a lot of good season-ending memories at South Carolina recently. Spurrier has lost two of three to the Tigers. The Gamecocks have lost nine of their last 11, and are 10-26-1 against Clemson since winning three in a row from 1968-70.
Spurrier's Clemson losses have lingered.
The Gamecocks followed the 2005 loss with an Independence Bowl defeat that soured a five-game Southeastern Conference win streak that included victories over Tennessee and Florida. In 2007, a loss to Clemson capped a five-game losing streak that kept South Carolina out of a bowl.
igers have other consequences, too. Fans hang their heads and have to hear from Clemson friends and co-workers for another year. One of the most quoted accomplishments of Tommy Bowden, fired by Clemson this year, was his 7-2 record against the Gamecocks. And the rivalry game also affects recruiting, Spurrier said, citing his only win in the series in 2006.
``We had our best recruiting year after winning our last three that year,'' Spurrier said. ``And certainly if we're fortunate enough to win our last two this year, it would really help.''
The defeats also appear to have had a subtle effect on Spurrier's outlook on the rivalry. When he arrived at South Carolina, he had all the ``Beat Clemson'' signs removed from the locker room. But when the Gamecocks won in 2006, he offered a game ball to the fans, then gave his blessing to the sale of footballs commemorating the win.
And this season?
``It's the biggest game of the year for us,'' Spurrier said. ``I always said your in-state rival game is your biggest game of the year unless you're playing for the conference championship. We're not doing that so, hey, it's the biggest game of the year.''
n could be a soothing balm to a a tough season, while a loss could send the program into more disarray.
But Spurrier said he isn't worried about that.
``We're just going to try to win the game,'' he said. ``We've got enough to worry about. To play the best we can - that's what we need to worry about.''
Swinney, who said the Clemson-South Carolina rivalry is similar to the Alabama-Auburn rivalry he grew up with, thinks the Tigers have dominated because they have usually been the better team, with a national championship, more bowl wins and more Top 25 finishes.
He also thinks the Gamecocks could be catching up.
``They've really improved their program. Coach Spurrier's done a tremendous job,'' Swinney said. ``They've won seven games this year already. There's been times that has been a struggle for them, just from a program standpoint over the years. Not any more. They're battling and competing with everybody.''
South Carolina players are familiar with the one-sidedness of the rivalry too, said senior linebacker Jasper Brinkley, who doesn't want to leave school with a losing record to Clemson.
ir year.
``Once I got here and played that '06 year we went down to Death Valley and won, I understood the rivalry then. I understood the passion,'' Brinkley said. ``I'm like the fans now. I want to beat Clemson every year.''

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