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South Carolina Gamecocks vs. North Carolina Tar Heels Complete Game Preview

Charles BennettContributor IDecember 19, 2016

South Carolina Gamecocks vs. North Carolina Tar Heels Complete Game Preview

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    South Carolina and North Carolina used to meet annually when both schools were members of the Atlantic Coast Conference, but meetings between the two border rivals have been rare since South Carolina left the league after the 1970 season.

    The two teams have met 11 times since 1974, with the Gamecocks holding a 6-5 advantage.

    The Gamecocks enter the season with the highest preseason ranking in school history (No. 6/7) and are coming off back-to-back 11-2 seasons.

    The Tar Heels finished 8-4 last season under first-year head coach Larry Fedora.

    Both teams enter the season with a few holes to fill. North Carolina lost three starting offensive linemen, each of whom was selected in the NFL draft.

    The Tar Heels also must replace their two top wide receivers and their best running back.

    South Carolina begins the year with three new linebackers, a new center and a new place kicker. 

     

    Who: North Carolina Tar Heels at South Carolina Gamecocks

    When: 6 p.m. ET

    Where: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, S.C.

    Watch: ESPN

    Series history: North Carolina leads 34-17-4.

     

Keys to Victory for South Carolina

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    South Carolina's best chance of victory lies with establishing the running game behind tailbacks Mike Davis, Brandon Wilds and Shon Carson.

    With leading wide receiver Bruce Ellington's uncertain status, the Gamecocks may be shaky in the passing game. Their best chance of keeping North Carolina's fast-paced offense off the field is to effectively run the football.

    Defensively, the Gamecocks will try to overpower North Carolina's inexperienced offensive line.

     

Keys to Victory for North Carolina

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    North Carolina will have to find a way to neutralize South Carolina's pass rush to give quarterback Bryn Renner time to throw.

    The Gamecocks' front four is considered among the best in the nation.

    Defensively, the Tar Heels must first stop the run, which ranks as the Gamecocks' strong suit. If North Carolina can force the Gamecocks into passing mode, they have a big chance at the upset.

    South Carolina leading receiver Bruce Ellington is unlikely to play and even more unlikely to be effective if he does.

    That leaves South Carolina quarterbacks Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson throwing to a group of young receivers who have been plagued by a case of the drops in fall practice.

Players to Watch for North Carolina

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    North Carolina's offense will revolve around quarterback Bryn Renner.

    Renner passed for a school-record 28 touchdowns last season and hasn't thrown an interception in his last 91 passes.

    He is the key player on an offense that is otherwise lacking in star power.

    When Renner distributes the ball, his teammates will need to do something with it. Otherwise, North Carolina's fast-paced offense could result in quick three-and-outs, which would play right into the Gamecocks' hands.

    Renner's top target is most likely to be tight end Eric Ebron, who caught 40 passees last season for 635 yards.

    Here is North Carolina's complete depth chart.

     

Players to Watch for South Carolina

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    South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney begins the season as a Heisman Trophy candidate and far and away the Gamecocks' most notable player.

    North Carolina will have to find a way to slow down Clowney if the Tar Heels are to have any chance at the upset.

    It won't be easy. Clowney shredded South Carolina's offensive line during fall practice.

    It got so frustrating for coach Steve Spurrier that he labeled the Gamecocks' line soft, and this is a group that returns four starters and is considered a strength of the team.

    The Tar Heels' best bet is to try and wear down Clowney, who sat some of fall camp due to injuries. His overall conditioning may be subject to question, and that could be a key factor in the fourth quarter.

    Quarterback Connor Shaw completed 67.5 percent of his passes last season for 1,956 yards and 17 touchdowns.

    He's also a threat to run the football.

     

What They're Saying

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    South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier knows there are a lot of questions surrounding his team, but he's confident his team will play well. He's also counting on a sellout crowd to give the Gamecocks an edge.

    "We know our fans are going to be here doing their part, screaming and yelling," Spurrier said, per gamecocksonline.com. "Our team, our coaches, all of us, hopefully, are smart enough to know we better do our part because this is a good football team coming in here."

    Much of the talk from the North Carolina side has been about the Tar Heels taking on a team from the SEC.

    North Carolina Coach Larry Fedora downplays the ACC vs. SEC angle.

    "We're not playing the SEC," Fedora said, per goheels.com. "We're playing South Carolina. It's one team in the league. A team that is ranked No. 6 in the country. We haven't talked about league vs. league."

     

Prediction

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    South Carolina's football team has questions. North Carolina's has more. If North Carolina can have success against the Gamecocks' defense, this could develop into a shoot out.

    When the dust settles, look for the Gamecocks to survive in a close one35-31.

     

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