South Carolina Gamecocks vs. North Carolina State Wolfpack – Preview and Pick

South Carolina Gamecocks (0-0) at North Carolina State Wolfpack (0-0)
Thursday, September 3rd Carter-Finley Stadium, 7:00PM Eastern

by Jay Horne of Predictem.com

Point Spread: North Carolina State -4
Over/under: 46

Finally, the wait is over and the college football season is set to kickoff this Thursday night from Carter-Finley Stadium. The North Carolina State Wolfpack will host Steve Spurrier’s South Carolina Gamecocks in a cross border battle featured for the second straight year on the opening night of the season.

Last year’s war highlighted the Gamecocks defense who shutout the Wolfpack in a 34-0 thumping. However, this year the Wolfpack are prime for vengeance behind all-ACC quarterback Russell Wilson. Wilson and the Wolfpack ended 2008 winning 4 straight games before being defeated by Rutgers in the PapaJohns.com Bowl. However, they were a big surprise in the ACC and hope to carry that momentum into the 2009 season. Expectations are high in Raleigh, but they will have to overcome a talented South Carolina defense if there are rewrite the headlines in this year’s opener.

South Carolina is a big unknown heading into 2009. In last year’s opener to NC State, the Gamecocks had trouble in the passing game throwing 4 interceptions in the first half. Those troubles remained with the team throughout the season and the offense could never keep from turning the ball over.

The Gamecocks now turn all their faith to sophomore quarterback Stephen Garcia. Garcia was a heralded recruit, but has yet to have the breakout success anticipated by the Gamecock faithful. However, unlike last year if Garcia fails to move the offense he will stay on the field. Behind Garcia, only true freshman Reid McCollum is there to take over the offense. Hopefully, for the Gamecocks that will not happen since McCollum is still learning the system and respectively not ready to step on the field.

South Carolina failed to have any success in the running game last season as well which may have contributed to the passing games struggles. However, South Carolina signed big time playmaker running back Jarvis Giles and you can expect to see time in the backfield opening night. The rushing attack should be improved this year due to the improvement of talent in the backfield and a better offensive line that should be juiced from the addition of new offensive line coach Eric Wolford. Still, the real success offensively will rest on the arm of Garcia and the air attack.

North Carolina State came on strong offensively throughout the season in 2008. The Wolfpack were unable to overcome the South Carolina defense in the opener last year as the team gained just 138 yards of total offense and turned the ball over 4 times. However, Russell Wilson took over behind center at the halfway point and gave the team a big spark offensively. Wilson threw 12 touchdowns without a single interception in the last 6 games of the season which was also good enough to earn preseason all-ACC honors. However, the defense was the main concern last year as they gave up more points than any team in the ACC allowing 26 points per contest.

The Wolfpack allowed 246 yards per game through the air and those issues must be addressed no matter how strong the offense performs. The Wolfpack should be a better team up front defensively with Willie Young and Alan-Michael Cash anchoring down the line. However, the Wolfpack still allowed 142 yards on average against the run last season and must see improvement to keep opposing offenses at bay.

Sportsbook.ag has opened the contest favoring North Carolina State by 4 points. Oddsmakers are obviously respecting how North Carolina State came on very strong at the end of last year and considering South Carolina really struggled down the stretch. The betting public is fairly indecisive siding with the Gamecocks at just 53%. However, 73% of early action is favoring the under total held at the 46 point mark.

The Gamecocks defense was among the best in the nation in 2008 ranking in the top 15 overall which was fairly impressive considering how often they were on the field. South Carolina lost some big names in MLB Jasper Brinkley and tons of talent in the secondary at the end of the year.

Heading into the season there are a lot of question marks surrounding the young secondary. However, the Gamecocks have plenty of young talent ready to step to the plate. True freshman Stephon Gilmore will lock down one corner position and the Gamecocks will rely on many other young guys this season. Despite the concern, South Carolina tends to produce great defensive backs and much of the concern may be over hyped.

The defensive front will be really strong, but they have two of their best players who will miss Thursday night’s opener due to off the field issues. However, the defense should be solid in general and give the Wolfpack offenses plenty of problems once again.

On the counter perspective, North Carolina State must find a way to expose the Gamecocks young secondary. Perhaps there may be no other quarterback in the ACC up to the task than Russell Wilson. Wilson completed just 1 pass against the Gamecocks defense a year ago and he will get his chance for redemption this Thursday night.

The Wolfpack return their top two receivers from 2008 with Owen Spencer and Jarvis Williams. The combination between Wilson and his receivers will be the key to success over South Carolina. The possibility of winning the game on the ground against the Gamecocks defense is more of an improbability.

Jay’s Pick - South Carolina has always played very well early in the season and have won their last 9 openers. The Gamecocks momentum is usually derailed deeper into the brutal SEC schedule. Also, defenses tend to make the biggest difference earlier in the year before the offenses begin to spark. Take South Carolina +4 and consider the under 46.