Re: Carolina means South
North Carolina, which set a school scoring record last season at 40.6 per game, brings its high-tempo offense into a frenzied atmosphere Thursday to face the Gamecocks in Columbia, S.C. South Carolina(11-2 SU, 8-5 ATS last season) boasts its highest-ever preseason ranking (No. 6 in the AP poll) and has legitimate SEC and national title aspirations. North Carolina (8-4 SU, 6-6 ATS) hasn’t faced an opponent ranked this high since 2005.
These teams last played in 2006, a 21-15 Gamecocks’ win in Chapel Hill, N.C.
The nationally televised game (6 p.m. ET, ESPN) is an ideal showcase for Jadeveon Clowney. Last season’s SEC Defensive Player of the Year, Clowney will try to disrupt an offense that returns six starters but lost All-Americans Giovani Bernard and Jonathan Cooper to the NFL.
Clowney had 13 sacks, 23.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles last season. It will be up to 6-7, 305-pound left tackle James Hurst and redshirt freshman right tackle Jon Heck to keep Clowney and defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles off quarterback Bryn Renner.
A big game could launch Clowney into serious Heisman Trophy consideration. He finished sixth in Heisman voting last year.
Line: South Carolina -12, 56.5 (check our live odds board for updates)
Both teams feature efficient quarterbacks who make few mistakes. South Carolina’s Connor Shaw, who’s never lost at home as a starter, hit 67.5 percent of his throws last year with 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Two key weapons – wideout Bruce Ellington and tight end Rory Anderson (20.9 yards per catch) – are questionable with hamstring injuries.
South Carolina’s massive offensive line should be able to clear holes for sophomore tailback Mike Davis, who averaged 5.3 yards per carry last season and steps in for Marcus Lattimore.
North Carolina’s Renner has gone over 3,000 passing yards each of the past two seasons while tossing 54 scores. Wideout Quinshad Davis, a South Carolina native, set school freshman records with 61 catches and 776 yards last year. With the electric Bernard now a Cincinnati Bengal, sophomore tailback Romar Morris, senior A.J. Blue and early enrollee Khris Francis aim to replicate his production collectively.
The Gamecocks gave up 18.2 points per game last year and own a substantial edge defensively, despite returning just five starters on that side of the ball. UNC gave up 25.7 points per game last season, including 30 or more in four of its last five ACC games.
View from Vegas
The Golden Nugget opened South Carolina as an 11-point favorite, and the Gamecocks have been bet up a half-point at the bet shop. Sports book director Tony Miller expects the line to move to 12, as there are already some 12s around town.
There’s been money on both sides of this game throughout Las Vegas, and the line has bounced around from as low as 10 to as high as 12.
The Nugget is among those books drawing two-way action on straight wagers, “but all the public money on the parlays is going to South Carolina, of course,” Miller told The Linemakers on Sporting News. “Squares tend to play the favorites in parlays, especially all the top-tier teams. We have a lot of parlay liability on the Gamecocks.”
Noting the recent ESPN special on Clowney, Miller said “he’s the talk of the country right now as far as defensive players go. The public likes the SEC, they like Spurrier.
“North Carolina has a decent team but it will be tough for them to go into that environment,” he added.
Miller doesn’t foresee the spread moving far enough to hit a key number.
Angles to consider
South Carolina is 5-1 ATS in its last six games against the ACC....North Carolina is 1-5 ATS in its last six road games....South Carolina is 7-2 ATS in its last nine home games....UNDER is 4-0 in South Carolina’s last four games vs. the ACC....South Carolina is 5-2 ATS in its last seven non-conference games.
South Carolina is 9-5 ATS as a home favorite the past two years....Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier is 146-118-7 ATS all-time (55.3 percent), while Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora is 35-29 ATS (54.6 percent)....Spurrier is 22-1 SU in season openers over his coaching career.
*North Carolina RB A.J. Blue (hamstring) questionable
*North Carolina LB Nathan Staub (knee) doubtful
*South Carolina WR Damiere Byrd (hamstring) probable
*South Carolina LB Cedrick Cooper (elbow) questionable
*South Carolina DE Devin Washington (concussion) doubtful
*South Carolina WR Bruce Ellington (hamstring) questionable
South Carolina TE Rory Anderson (hamstring) questionable
Weather: Temperatures in the high 70s, 30 percent chance of rain (weather.com’s forecast)
The Linemakers’ lean: Renner is very comfortable in Fedora’s offense, and record-setting receiver Quinshad Davis should be plenty motivated to perform in his home state. We’re taking the points in this spot, but we’re going to wait to make our play. Watch for money on the favorite to keep pushing this point spread up. If, like us, you’re on the dog, don’t be in a rush to get to the window.
All generalizations are dangerous.