Today the South Carolina Gamecocks will host the North Carolina State Wolfpack for their college football season opener in Columbia. They will play in front of a sold-out crowd of 80,250 and will also be featured on ESPN at 8:00 pm ET.
The Wolfpack hold a very slim lead in the two teams’ all-time series at 26-25-4. The last time these teams met up was back in 1999, and Thursday’s game will be only the third meeting since 1991.
The Carolina Gamecocks look to get the bad taste of a five-game losing streak out of their mouths, while the Pack enters season two of Tom O’Brien looking to improve on their 5-7 record from last season.
The Gamecocks return 16 starters—six on offense and 10 on defense, not including Jasper Brinkley and Nathan Pepper, who were starters before season-ending injuries. The Wolfpack return 12 starters, seven on offense and five on defense, but will be without junior tailback Jamelle Eugene due to an ankle injury.
Carolina had some running back news of its own: Senior Taylor Rank was named the opening day starter over expected starter Mike Davis. Rank only had one previous start during his four-year stint at USC, which he took advantage of, compiling 101 yards on 15 carries against Florida Atlantic back in 2006.
The surprising decision probably stemmed from Mike Davis missing the final two weeks of preseason camp due to a shoulder injury and a stomach virus.
When asked about the situation, Steve Spurrier responded, “Taylor has had a little bit better preseason practice. He had a good summer going to workouts—and Mike did too. Mike will be in early though. He’s ready to play.”
Both teams are anxious to see how their inexperienced quarterbacks will perform. Redshirt freshman Russell Wilson and redshirt junior Tommy Beecher will battle it out during the first collegiate starts of their careers.
Beecher knows that if he doesn’t get things going early this season, we shouldn’t be surprised to see him replaced by Chris Smelley or Stephen Garcia. Last season we saw Chris Smelley get benched after holding a 4-2 record as the starter.
Based on last season's performances on the Wolfpack side, watch out for junior defensive end Willie Young, who recorded 16 tackles for losses, and cornerback DeAndre Morgan, who is key to State’s pass-efficiency defense.
The Gamecocks feature All-SEC receiver Kenny McKinley, who led the SEC with 77 catches last season, and junior safety Emanuel Cook, who recorded three interceptions last season and forced two fumbles—one fumble coming against current Oakland Raiders running back Darren McFadden.
With a redshirt freshman starting and the loss of starting tailback Jamelle Eugene, the Wolfpack could have their hands full going up against one of the most improved and underrated defenses in college football.
However, it will be interesting to see if Beecher can carry his spring performances onto the "actual" playing field and run the offense to Spurrier’s approval.
Prediction: 27-14, South Carolina over NC State