The 2013 college football season is officially underway, and the South Carolina Gamecocks look like legitimate national title contenders.
The Gamecocks defeated the North Carolina Tar Heels 27-10 in a game that was truly never close.
At different times in the game, USC looked dominant in all three phases. Quarterback Connor Shaw was solid, both passing and running the ball.
Despite the proliferation of the spread offense, football is still won in the trenches and South Carolina is in good shape up front on both sides of the ball.
Here are 10 things we learned about the Gamecocks in their season-opening win over UNC.
The image above was one seen often in Thursday's game: Jadeveon Clowney—arguably the best player in the country—walking off the field because he was winded.
Don't panic, folks.
Clowney is not overrated. Whether he was sick or struggling with his conditioning, Clowney left the field often, leading many to question if he was giving full effort.
Remember, Clowney was double-teamed on virtually every play and UNC plays at a frenetic pace. Also, Clowney missed several practices this month, so his conditioning isn't where it needs to be. He'll be just fine.
His presence alone gives other teammates opportunities to make plays, and that will continue to be the case. And give Clowney credit for coming back in the game late after taking a dirty shot in the fourth quarter.
Connor Shaw may not be the big, strong-armed, prototypical quarterback NFL teams love, but he proved Thursday he is pretty good.
Shaw was impressive in the first half, both passing and running the football. If he plays like this on a weekly basis against the best of the SEC, the Gamecocks can win a national championship. The defense will be very good; if he can lead the offense the way he did against North Carolina, USC will be hard to stop.
People often forget Shaw was 17-3 as a starter heading into the 2013 season opener.
South Carolina's starting offensive line averages 322 pounds per person. UNC's defensive line averaged 271 pounds. That difference showed on Thursday, early and often.
On the first drive of the game, Mike Davis ran the ball two times for 17 yards. On both plays, USC's offensive line pushed back UNC's front four with ease.
After a good start running the ball, Connor Shaw dropped back on the third play from scrimmage to hit Shaq Roland for a 65-yard touchdown pass. The Gamecocks never looked back. This drive showed USC's dominance up front.
We aren't used to seeing Steve Spurrier-coached teams built around running the football and playing shutdown defense. Get used to it—Spurrier understands the game has changed and that in order to compete with the likes of Alabama, you have to win the battle up front.
South Carolina can do that now.
Davis started off strong and never looked back. His 75-yard touchdown run was impressive as he displayed both speed and power on the run. UNC's lackluster tackling didn't hurt, either.
He finished with 115 yards on the ground and is positioning himself for a nice sophomore campaign.
Wilds, the bigger of the two, finished with 64 yards on 12 carries.
This is shaping up to be a nice battle between the two running backs. Wilds missed all of last year with an injury, so splitting the carries may be a good thing for the Gamecocks long term.
Entering the season, there was some concern about South Carolina's receiving corps. Sophomore Shaq Roland helped ease some of those concerns on Thursday.
On Roland's first-quarter touchdown catch, he blew past the defensive backfield for an easy score, displaying his big-play ability. In the second quarter, Roland pulled in an errant throw from Shaw on the sideline. The 10-yard grab may actually be the more impressive. Roland showed good concentration on the play in addition to his excellent hands.
With a team full of smaller receivers, Roland (6'1", 190) can be considered a "big" wideout. The Gamecocks are used to big-bodied receivers like Sidney Rice and Alshon Jeffery, but this team lacks that. Roland helped assuage some of those concerns with his performance against the Tar Heels.
Yes, it was only one play, but what a play it was. Thompson came in late in the first quarter and on his only pass hit Kane Whitehurst for a 29-yard touchdown.
Thompson proved he could play last year. He won both of his starts in 2012 and engineered a last-minute drive to beat Michigan in the Outback Bowl.
Thompson is bigger than Shaw with a stronger arm. He is a solid athlete, too. If Shaw gets hurt, or struggles, the Gamecocks will be just fine with Thompson at the helm.
It is a good problem to have for Spurrier after several years of Stephen Garcia.
Gamecocks defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward is one of the more fortunate coaches in the country. He gets to figure out where to line up the best defensive player in the nation on any given play.
On Thursday, Ward had Jadeveon Clowney line up all over the defensive line, but was it too much?
I understand and appreciate the creativity on Ward's part; however, facing a team that plays the no-huddle as frequently as UNC does puts your defense in a bad position in the first place. You can't substitute as freely as you would like and pass-rushers wear down quicker than any other player.
And Ward had to know Clowney wasn't quite feeling his best, having missed a lot of practice time. Moving forward, I like Ward having Clowney shift across the front seven. Tonight, though, may have been a bit too much. UNC's offensive line was clearly overmatched to begin with.
In the first quarter, South Carolina faced a fourth down in UNC territory. In true Spurrier fashion, he decided to keep the offense on the field, and it paid off. The Gamecocks would eventually score their second touchdown.
When you have a team that is close to being a national title contender, having an aggressive coach pays off. Spurrier has always been unafraid to push the envelope, but he has not had this good of a team at South Carolina.
As good as his offensive line is, expect Spurrier to continue to take risks. He is confident in this group.
While Clowney may not have been at his personal best, USC's defensive line, as a whole, was very good.
The Gamecocks can go nine or 10 deep on the defensive line and not experience too drastic of a drop in productivity. That is impressive.
All game long, USC stopped the UNC running game and pressured Bryn Renner constantly. The Tar Heels were unable to get anything going in the downfield passing game. That is a credit to USC's outstanding front four.
The Gamecocks held UNC to just 194 yards passing on 42 attempts. The run defense was just as strong holding the 'Heels to 109 yards at 2.9 yards per carry.
Keep an eye on Chaz Sutton; he has the ability to be an All-SEC player but likely won't get the recognition he deserves because Clowney is so good.
The junior cornerback was injured in the first half. It looked like he may be out for a while, but Hampton came back in the second half and played well.
Late in the game, after the lengthy weather delay, Hampton was back returning punts. While we can criticize Spurrier for having him field punts late in a game that was already decided, it proved how tough Hampton is. He injured his ankle on the play and it remains to be seen if it is a significant injury or not. It didn't appear to be on the sideline.
An injury to Hampton would severely hurt this defense. He is the team's top defensive back and will be needed against high-flying Georgia next week in Athens.