Going into this college football season, few would have suspected that Clemson and South Carolina would finish with identical records.
Truth is often stranger than fiction.
The Tigers and Gamecocks completed the year with identical 8-5 records, but how they got there, and what it means to their fans, seems quite different.
Indeed, their bowl appearances on Friday told the story.
Clemson limped into the Music Bowl in Nashville on a downswing. Having lost its last regular-season game to USC, the Tigers never looked like they intended to give Kentucky much of a fight.
And they didn't.
When it was all over, Tommy Bowden's club suffered a 28-20 loss to the Wildcats, concluding its season-ending spiral by losing four of its last five games.
South Carolina, a few hours later, brushed off Houston over in Memphis at the Liberty Bowl, 44-36, in a game that not only lifted the Gamecocks' spirits but further increased the stock of coach Steve Spurrier in the hearts of USC fans.
Same records, but vastly different perspectives as the two programs head into the off-season.
Clemson fans will no doubt be scratching their heads for months trying to figure out what happened to this year's Tigers.
Yes, there were some early injuries to some key players such as Anthony Waters at linebacker. But the team's depth seemed to absorb the pain and bolster the club's attitude.
At least for a while.
Deep into the season, Clemson was 7-1 with that one loss being a one-point, double-overtime defeat at Boston College.
Anything and everything seemed possible.
An ACC title was still a pretty good bet and there was talk of a big, big bowl game.
Especially after the Tigers manhandled Georgia Tech, 31-7, and looked like the team Clemson fans have been awaiting for 25 years.
Then they went to Blacksburg.
A stunning 24-7 loss to Virginia Tech on a Thursday night stage was the first step on a slippery slope that sent Clemson plunging to unimagined depths.
Only a one-touchdown win over N.C. State kept Bowden from losing the rest of the games on the schedule.
The only thing worse than the way the Tigers played down the stretch against South Carolina was the way they played in the bowl game.
Clemson fans are rightfully disgusted.
They could have the worst 8-5 team in the county.
South Carolina fans, however, are celebrating.
Spurrier may have done one of his best coaching jobs ever as the Gamecocks hopscotched through the minefield that is the SEC with a variety of quarterbacks and an offensive line in the making.
After consecutive losses to Tennessee, Arkansas and Florida, they looked dead
in the water. Starting quarterback Blake Mitchell had been benched for bad play on the field and an arrest off the field, and former QB/wide receiver/cornerback Syvelle Newton filled in like a trooper.
Then, like a story written in Hollywood, Mitchell comes off the bench, plays like a different player, acts like a different person and guides the Gamecocks to victory after victory.
Spurrier, meanwhile, is loving every minute of this challenge and was genuinely happy to take his team to Memphis.
Friday's win over Houston was not only entertaining to watch, it showed how much fun it must be playing for a guy like Spurrier.
South Carolina fans are rightfully rejoicing.
They could have the best 8-5 team in the country.
Reach Ken Burger at 937-5598 or email@example.com.