The South Carolina Gamecocks are in the midst of a run that has never been matched in their program’s history. Back-to-back 11 win seasons, 31 wins in three years, and 4 straight wins against in-state rival Clemson have propelled the Gamecocks from the bottom of the college football world to where no one thought they would ever be: an SEC power. With a returning nucleus of key players such as Heisman hopeful Jadeveon Clowney, quarterbacks Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson, and wide receiver Bruce Ellington, the Gamecocks have again found themselves in the preseason top 10. Lee Corso once said that Steve Spurrier will never win the SEC at South Carolina, yet the “Ole Ball Coach” has the personnel, the attitude, and the schedule to make a serious run. Over the next two weeks leading up to the season opener against North Carolina, I will preview all 12 of the Gamecocks’ regular season games, beginning with the battle with the Tarheels on August 29th.
North Carolina @ South Carolina – August 29th – 6:00 – ESPN
In the first meeting since South Carolina escaped Chapel Hill with a 21-15 in 2008 (the Gamecocks led 21-3 at halftime before North Carolina made things interesting late), North Carolina travels to Columbia to open the 2013 NCAA football season in front of a national television audience on ESPN.
The Tar Heels, coming off an 8-4 season in which they would have represented the Coastal division in the ACC Championship game if not for penalties issued due to infractions from the 2010 season, hope to improve under second year coach Larry Fedora. North Carolina lost three games last year by a combined 9 points, yet have lost two key offensive players, running back Giovani Bernard and guard Jonathan Cooper. Cooper anchored an offensive line that allowed Bernard to rush for 1228 yards and 12 TD’s, while Bernard added 5 receiving TD’s and returned two punts to the end zone.
But for all the Tar heels lose in the running game, they return in their passing game. Senior Bryn Renner is coming off of a 28 TD/7 INT year and was a third team preseason ACC selection. With preseason first team ACC tight end Eric Ebron as his primary target, Renner will look to continue off of last year’s success and start off quickly against a USC defense that brings in one of the most dynamic players in the country in DE Jadeveon Clowney.
Defensively, the Tarheels lose DT Sylvester Williams and LB Kevin Reddick, yet return all four starters to a secondary that picked off 14 passes in 2012. North Carolina will have to find playmakers though and improve after giving up 389 yards per game in 2012.
What South Carolina will have to do to win
Defensively, South Carolina must find a way to stop the passing game of UNC and get pressure on Renner. The Gamecock’s young linebacking core will be tested early, but the defensive line, anchored by Jadeveon Clowney, must be quick off the line to counteract a UNC passing game that will focus on getting the ball out quickly.
Offensively, the Gamecocks shouldn’t have any issues moving the ball downfield. While UNC does return all four starters in the secondary, an inexperience defensive line and linebacking core should allow for the Gamecocks running back duo of Brandon Wilds and Mike Davis to start off strong as they look to replace Marcus Lattimore. Both Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson will see playing time, and both should be able to find some holes in a defense that gave up close to 400 yards in 2012.
How it will end up
The Tarheels will try everything they can to prove they can hang with the other Carolina from the SEC. A confident Renner will be able to find some success early, but that won’t be enough to stop Clowney and company. And the Gamecock offense should be able to find some success against the UNC defense. It will be close throughout the first half, but the Gamecocks will pull away late to start 2013 1-0.
Final: South Carolina 34, North Carolina 17