No. 20 Nebraska Cornhuskers (9-3 SU, 4-7-1 ATS) vs. No. 9 South Carolina Gamecocks (10-2 SU, 5-6-1 ATS), Monday January 2nd, 2011. 1:00PM EST, Capital One Citrus Bowl Orlando, Fla.
By Jay Horne, College Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: Neb +2/USC -2
Over/Under Total: 46
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Coach Steve Spurrier and the South Carolina Gamecocks reached the 10 win mark for just the 2nd time in school history this season while finishing the year ranked inside the top 10 in the final AP Polls. Not only did South Carolina have a season to remember but it was what the Gamecocks overcame throughout the year that was more impressive. The Gamecocks starting QB Stephen Garcia was kicked off the team early in the year and Heisman Trophy hopeful running back Marcus Lattimore was lost to a season ending knee injury through the midpoint of the season. Still, the Gamecocks found a way to escape the SEC with one of their best seasons ever and they will also have the opportunity to set a school record 11 wins when they meet the no. 20 Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Capital One Bowl.
Despite failing to win the Big Ten Championship, Nebraska still had a very solid 2011 campaign in their first year in the Big Ten. The Cornhuskers scored two big wins towards the end of the year over Michigan State and Penn State. Those big wins helped Nebraska reach a 9-3 record and earn a trip to one of the biggest non BCS Bowl Games in this year’s Capital One Bowl. In fact, the Capital One Bowl is the highest paying non BCS Bowl Game in the entire postseason paying out over 9 million dollars to both schools. Luckily for the Cornhuskers, the Big Ten teams have fared well against SEC opponents winning the last 5 of 7 Capital One Bowl Games. Therefore, the Cornhuskers will look to keep that trend going when they battle the Gamecocks on January 2nd in Orlando, Florida.
In terms of betting odds, online odds makers have the Gamecocks listed as slight 2 point favorites over the Cornhuskers. Additionally, over 70% of public bets have favored the Gamecocks so far since the lines were opened. However, South Carolina is just 1-4 SU in their only 5 bowl games during the Steve Spurrier era and they have had several disappointing postseason performances over the last few years.
Still, the Gamecocks have found ways to overcome adversity this year. Despite having a slow developing offense, the South Carolina defense has been the backbone for the team’s success this year. The Gamecocks defense ranks 4th overall holding opponents to just 268 total yards per game. The entire defense has found ways to force turnovers all year and the group has an extremely talented defensive line that will give any opposing offensive lines a difficult challenge. The Gamecock defensive line will now get the privilege of trying to stop the best rushing offense they have seen all year when they go toe to toe with the Cornhuskers talented rushing attack.
Nebraska sports the 13th ranked rushing offense in America averaging a strong 223 yards per game on the ground. QB Taylor Martinez leads the Cornhuskers unique double option rushing attack. Martinez has been solid racking up 837 yards and 9 touchdowns. Martinez has completed 55% passing for 1,973 yards with 12 scores and 7 picks. However, the Cornhuskers do the majority of their damage on the ground. The guy responsible for most of that damage is running back Rex Burkhead. Burkhead racked up 1,268 yards this season which was the 3rd most of any tailback in the Big Ten. There is no doubt Burkhead is extremely dangerous in the open field but the question will be if the Nebraska offensive line will be able to open up holes in the South Carolina defense and allow Burkhead room to run the football?
On the other side of the field, South Carolina’s offense has not been very explosive but they have methodically been able to move the football. The Gamecocks only average 375 total yards of offense per game. However, QB Connor Shaw is a mobile quarterback that can make plenty of plays with his feet. Shaw racked up 483 rushing yards during his 6 starts this season while completing 65.5% passing for 1,218 yards with 12 scores and 6 picks.
Outside of Shaw’s ability to run the football, the Gamecocks have two solid tailbacks in both Kenny Miles and Brandon Wilds that can also run the ball effectively. However, the Gamecocks biggest playmaker on offense is WR Alshon Jeffery. Jeffery’s numbers will not surprise you mainly because South Carolina has struggled to throw the football for most of the year. Still, Jeffery is one of the best wide outs in the entire country and was a 2010 Biletnikoff Finalist. Therefore on the few occasions QB Connor Shaw tests the deep ball, expect Jeffery to be the primary target in hopes for a big play.
Jay’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: - I really like South Carolina in this game. The Gamecocks defense has seen similar offensive styles compared to Nebraska this year and I think the South Carolina defense is the difference in this game. Additionally, mobile quarterbacks have troubled Nebraska this year. Every way I look at this game, I see the Gamecocks pulling out the win. Take South Carolina -2.
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