No. 23 Florida State Seminoles (9-4, 7-6 ATS) vs. No. 20 South Carolina Gamecocks (9-4, 7-6 ATS), Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Classic, Friday December 31st, 7:30PM Eastern Georgia Dome Atlanta, G.A.
By Jay Horne, College Bowl Handicapper of Predictem.com
Betting Odds: FSU +3/USC -3
Over/Under Total: 54
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The Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Classic started the 2010 season by showcasing a thrilling battle between LSU and North Carolina. Now the Chick-Fil-A Bowl will end the season by bringing together another highly anticipated meeting between runner-ups from both the ACC and SEC. The no. 23 Florida State Seminoles reached the ACC Championship in Coach Jimbo Fisher’s first season but fell to the Virginia Tech Hokies 44-33. Coach Steve Spurrier led the no. 20 South Carolina Gamecocks to their first SEC Championship in school history but they were blown out by Auburn 56-17. Now both runner-ups will meet in the Georgia Dome in attempt to eclipse the 10 win mark on the year and bring home bragging rights over their rival conference.
For the Gamecocks, they could reach the 10 win plateau for just the 3rd time in school history. It took Steve Spurrier some time to turn around the South Carolina football program, but the Gamecocks are differently heading in the right direction. Not only do the Gamecocks have some promising young talent all over the field but they quite possibly could be favored in the SEC East again next season which would be another first for the Gamecocks. On offense, South Carolina has been explosive averaging 32 points per game. For the first time in school history, the Gamecocks housed a 1,000 yard rusher and 1,000 yard receiver in the same season. WR Alshon Jeffery was a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award after racking up 79 catches for 1,387 yards and 9 touchdowns. Jeffery is a big bodied receiver that is very difficult to defend and seems to come up with big plays in big situations.
Running back Marcus Lattimore may just be the best freshman in America. Lattimore finished the season just 1 touchdown shy of a SEC record by a freshman with 17 rushing touchdowns backed by 1,198 yards on the ground. In fact during the latter part of the season, defenses have really focused on stopping Lattimore and the Gamecocks rushing attack. When South Carolina runs the ball well, they can be dominating on the offensive side of the ball. Therefore expect Florida State’s strong defensive line to focus on stopping the run and getting pressure on QB Stephen Garcia. Garcia has had a solid season completing 65% passing for 2,816 yards with 20 touchdowns and 11 picks. The Gamecocks quarterback has really matured over the season, but he is a bit inconsistent and mistake prone when under pressure. The Seminoles defense ranks 2nd in the nation in sacks averaging 3.54 per game. Therefore if the Seminoles defense can get pressure on Garcia they may be able to force him into making some mistakes.
On the other side of the field, the Florida State offense has not been to shabby either averaging 31.7 points per game this season. The Seminoles have been a strong rushing team through their 2010 campaign averaging 167 yards per game. Running back Chris Thompson led the team with 699 yards on the ground but also split carries with both Ty Jones and Jermaine Thomas. Thomas missed the last 3 games with a sprained knee but has averaged 5.7 yards on limited carries this year. Thomas will be back to attempt some carries in the Seminoles postseason meeting with the Gamecocks. Also keep an eye on running back Ty Jones. Jones has been quiet during the 2nd half of the season, but he was also really explosive earlier this year and the Seminoles would love to see him knock off a couple of big plays. Unfortunately for the Seminoles, the strength of South Carolina’s defense is up front. South Carolina ranks 9th in America against the run allowing just 103 yards per game which may make it difficult for the talented Seminoles tailbacks to get the ball moving on the ground.
Fortunately for the Seminoles, South Carolina’s secondary has been shredded apart this season. The Gamecocks consistently blew coverage in the SEC Championship allowing Cam Newton to pass for 335 yards. The Gamecocks have had those types of troubles out of their secondary all season. Florida State veteran quarterback Christian Ponder may be just the guy the Seminoles need to continue to exploit the Gamecocks weakness on defense. Ponder has completed 62% passing this season for 2,038 yards with 20 touchdowns and 8 interceptions.
Florida St. has some wide receivers in Bert Reed, Willie Haulstead, and Taiwan Easterling who can all make plays in the passing game. Each receiver has tallied over 500 yards receiving this year and they just maybe the key to beating the Gamecocks defense inside the Georgia Dome. Similar to Florida State, South Carolina’s defense does a great job at getting to the quarterback ranking 10 in sacks in the country. I’m sure Coach Fisher will attempt to attack the Gamecocks secondary, but to do so their offensive line will have to play well up front. Keep on eye on both defensive lines in this game, because this will be a game that is likely won in the trenches.
Jay’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Both of these offenses can strike fast and put together efficient scoring drives. Also, both defenses have some major problems to work out. Both Jimbo Fisher and Steve Spurrier draw up excellent game plans to attack weakness of opposing defenses. I believe that both defenses will be under fire again in this one and lead to a lot of scoring. I expect this to be a shootout that could carry into the upper 60s point total. Take the over 54.