David Hale took a few seconds to think about it.

Recently, I had Hale, who primarily covers the ACC for ESPN, on The Saturday Down South Podcast. I wanted him to weigh in on something I’ve been thinking about ever since Shane Beamer went into Death Valley and delivered Clemson its first home loss in over 6 years.

If you could buy shares right now of Beamer and Dabo Swinney at the exact same price without any chance of selling for the next 5 years, who would you buy more shares of?

“Oh man. That’s a really good question,” Hale told SDS. “I think Dabo still. It’s sort of like buying a blue-chip stock and investing in IBM or McDonald’s. There’s risk. There’s probably not as high of a ceiling or as rapid of a growth curve. The big difference is that Clemson is in the ACC and that’s a much easier ride. I’d rather be Dabo trying to fend off Florida State than Shane trying to catch up to Georgia. I think (Georgia) is just a mountain that’s not climbable in a realistic sense on a consistent basis … the path for Dabo to sustain success is probably a lot simpler than the one for Shane.

“But he has done a tremendous job at South Carolina.”

That right there tells you all you need to know — it’s at least a question. Two years ago, it wasn’t. A year ago, it wasn’t.

Anybody asking that question would’ve probably been doing so either while wearing garnet and black or with Beamer DNA coursing through their veins. Say what you want about Swinney. He’s too slow to adapt to change, he’s corny, he lives in his own world, etc. The guy is still 1 of the 3 most accomplished college football coaches in the 21st century. That was opposed to Beamer, whose pre-2022 crowning achievement as a head coach was celebrated with a poorly executed mayo dump.

It is an interesting question, and not just because South Carolina was better than Clemson on a Saturday for the first time in the post-Steve Spurrier era. We know that these things aren’t always linear. If they were, Will Muschamp’s 2019 victory at Georgia would’ve meant something instead of being remember as one of the most random regular season results of the Playoff era.

Beamer’s win at Clemson didn’t feel random, of course, because it was preceded by a beatdown of Playoff-hopeful Tennessee. Had the Gamecocks been able to pull out a thriller against Notre Dame in the bowl game — wherein both teams were significantly short-handed — then they would’ve been the SEC’s unofficial ultimate good vibes team for the second consecutive offseason. It helps that these 2 years coincided with Clemson’s most uncertain stretch in the Playoff era.

Hence, why we can even ask the question.

If you still don’t think it should even be a question, here’s another one to ponder. If South Carolina was going to get back on Clemson’s level or perhaps even surpass it for the first time in a decade, isn’t this what it would look like? That is, beating Clemson in Death Valley, starting the Beamer era with a pair of winning seasons and signing the program’s highest-ranked recruiting class in 11 years.

If you had told any Gamecock fan in 2020 that Beamer would check all 3 of those boxes in his first 2 years on the job, they would’ve bear-hugged you. If you had told any Clemson fan in 2020 that South Carolina would do that, they would’ve laughed you out of the room.

Much has changed. That’s starting to be reflected from a talent acquisition standpoint, as well. Here’s where each team ranked in the 247sports talent composite since it was first tracked in 2015:


  • Clemson: No. 13
  • South Carolina: No. 22


  • Clemson: No. 9
  • South Carolina: No. 23


  • Clemson: No. 9
  • South Carolina: No. 27


  • Clemson: No. 6
  • South Carolina: No. 21


  • Clemson: No. 9
  • South Carolina: No. 21


  • Clemson: No. 4
  • South Carolina: No. 21


  • Clemson: No. 4
  • South Carolina: No. 22


  • Clemson: No. 5
  • South Carolina: No. 21

Mind you, we also just saw South Carolina finish the 2023 cycle with nearly an identical average recruit ranking (89.79 to 90.78) to Clemson. That’s the closest they’ve been in a given class since 2019, though obviously a post-2020 coaching change didn’t exactly see that through and even if it did, Muschamp’s inability to figure out the quarterback position would’ve probably always gotten in the way of any sort of narrowed talent deficit between the 2 schools.
That talent gap should continue to narrow now, especially if we don’t see more willingness from Swinney to fully utilize the transfer portal the way Beamer has. Beamer embracing the transfer portal opened the door for Spencer Rattler. It was also Juice Wells, a James Madison transfer, who played a monumental role in the Gamecocks’ upset and late-season surge. Clemson, on the other hand, continues to be a 1-way street with the portal with the exception of adding the occasional backup veteran quarterback.

All of that needs to be factored into any future projecting of Swinney and Beamer, as does the fact that Clemson plucked the Broyles Award winner, Garrett Riley, to take over the Tigers’ stagnant offense.

Another thing to keep in mind is Hale’s point. If those stock shares increase in value simply by win totals, well, advantage Swinney. We’re talking about someone with 12 consecutive years of double-digit victories compared to a South Carolina program with 4 such seasons ever, the most recent of which happened a decade ago with Spurrier, AKA the best coach in program history.

Perhaps, though, we can look at this with a bit more nuance. If South Carolina goes 9-3 and beats a 10-2 Clemson team, who really has the bragging rights? Or in a given year, what if Clemson has 2 more wins but South Carolina fares significantly better against teams that finish in the Top 25 … who improved their stock more?

This isn’t simply about who rises above expectations the most because if that were the case, Beamer would have an easier path to doing that due to the remarkably high bar that Swinney set for his program in the Playoff era. It also can’t simply be about conference records when we have nearly 2 decades worth of data that suggests the SEC is on a different level than the ACC.

Ah. Therein lies the beauty of teams who get an annual regular-season finale against each other.

There’s no denying who the better team was by season’s end in 2022. And if you don’t believe that, you missed the part where Clemson got waxed by Tennessee, which was missing its 2 best players, and South Carolina actually played in a nail-biter game against fellow mutual opponent, Notre Dame, which demolished the Tigers.

It was the first time since 2013 that one could make the argument that South Carolina evolved into a better team than Clemson. It’s exactly why we’re bringing this question to the table for the first time in the post-Spurrier era.

About 14.5 months ago, Beamer apologized to the South Carolina faithful who witnessed a deflating 30-0 loss to Clemson. It was a reminder that even after November upsets of Florida and Auburn, the Gamecocks still weren’t on that level even amidst a down year for their Palmetto State rival. Beamer vowed that South Carolina was “coming” and that they would “get there.”

The Gamecocks still have a ways to go in order to prove they can compete with Clemson on an annual basis. But at the very least, 2022 established a much more interesting discussion topic about the futures of Swinney and Beamer.

The question is worth asking.