Southern Miss Golden Eagles (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS) vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS), Week 1 NCAA Football, 7:30PM EST, Thursday, September, 2nd, 2010, Williams Brice Stadium Columbia, South Carolina
By Jay Horne of Predictem.com
Point Spread: Southern Miss +14/South Carolina -14
For the 3rd straight year, the South Carolina Gamecocks will help reign in the new college football season on Thursday night as they host the Southern Miss Golden Eagles in a primetime battle highlighted on ESPN. The Gamecocks have taken the national spotlight on opening Thursday night each of the past two seasons with wins over North Carolina State and will look to continue that trend when the Golden Eagles march into town. However, Coach Larry Fedora promised his team a victory over the Gamecocks over the off-season. If true, the Golden Eagles would score a major upset on the national stage over Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks.
Many outsiders would consider the Golden Eagles a long shot to live up to Coach Fedora’s claim. However, Southern Miss sports a very confident offense that can put up points against any defense in the nation. The Golden Eagles averaged 32.9 points per game in 2009 in route to a 7-6 record in Conference USA. Both quarterbacks from 2009 in senior Martevious Young and Austin Davis are both back. The two combined for over 3,000 yards, 26 touchdowns, and only 5 picks in 2009. Davis got the nod early in the season before suffering a foot injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the year. Davis will again be the starter and look for his go to guy in a playmaker at wide receiver in DeAndre Brown. Brown is on the Biletnikoff Award “Watch List” after catching 47 balls for 795 yards and 9 touchdowns last season. The Golden Eagles do have to replace RB Damion Fletcher in the backfield, but their weapons in the passing game will likely overshadow any major emphasis for Southern Miss running the football. The big question is how well will the offense stack up against a highly praised South Carolina defense?
The Gamecocks on the other hand have had a history of strong starts followed by late season collapses over the past few years. However, the Gamecocks possibly return their most talented team to date under the Spurrier era and many in Columbia feel it’s their best opportunity ever to make it to Atlanta for a chance at an SEC Championship. Still, some of the same lingering concerns have yet to be answered for the Gamecocks. Despite averaging 226 yards of passing last season, the Gamecocks offensive line surrendered 38 sacks on the year which ranked them the 10th worse unit in college football. Those offensive line concerns will again be a major focus point heading into 2010.
Gamecocks QB Stephen Garcia had a pretty fair season in 2009 despite being on the run so often. Garcia tossed 17 touchdowns for 2,862 yards with 10 picks. Garcia would be entering his junior season and many expect him to be the leader of the Gamecocks offense this season. However, do not be surprised if freshman Connor Shaw gets some playing time as he has really impressed in the pre-season workouts. Either quarterback will have some talented targets to take aim at. WR Alshon Jeffery received Freshman All-American honors in 2009 after posting 46 catches for 763 yards and 6 scores. Jeffery is another standout on the Biletnikoff Award “Watch List.” Also, TE Wesley Saunders is listed as one of the best potential tight ends in the country on Mel Kiper’s 2011 NFL Draft board. It’s easy to see the Gamecocks have some lethal weapons on the outside. The question will be how will the offensive line hold up and will the offense come out firing on all cylinders?
On the defensive side of the ball, the advantage definitely lies with South Carolina. The Golden Eagles defense is anchored by junior linebacker Korey Williams who made the Bednarik Award “Watch List.” However, the Southern Miss defense surrendered a miserable 34.2 points per game in their final 5 outings in 2009. The Golden Eagles gave up nearly 400 yards of offense on the season and is again the major concern heading into 2010. The Golden Eagles defense must find ways to penetrate the Gamecocks offensive line and thwart the passing efforts while possibly even forcing a few turnovers.
As for South Carolina’s defense, they have been rock solid under defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson. South Carolina held teams to just 300 yards and 20 points per game on the season in 2009. Perhaps a more important stat is that the Gamecocks have ranked as one of the nation’s top 10 pass defenses in each of the past two seasons. If the Gamecocks can return another solid South Carolina secondary which is expected, the Golden Eagles may have a much more difficult time moving the ball against a quality SEC defense. However, only time will tell if that propaganda holds true.
Jay’s Pick to Beat the Spread: South Carolina historically plays very well early in the season and I think their defense will keep any big worries aside. As long as the Gamecocks offense has some success, I think they cover the spread in this one. Take the Gamecocks at -14.