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One of the first games of the season is a gift for college football fans. Opening on Saturday night the two Carolinas will face off in what should be a solid game. While the Gamecocks are listed as -11 point favorites at sportsbook.ag and 5 Dimes, the Tar Heels aren't going down without a fight. The last time these two teams played was in 2007 which is pretty surprising considering they are big schools in the same state. While UNC has the series lead, South Carolina has been the better of these two teams for a while now. The Tar Heels will try and use this game to grab a win and build leverage in the recruiting scene.
Everyone knows about the Gamecocks defense with Jadeveon Clowney being a possible No. 1 NFL pick in the draft next year, but he still needs a supporting cast to help. While the rest of the line is top class, South Carolina will have six new starters on their defense, a good portion of them at the linebacker spot. Considering North Carolina isn't exactly a slouch on the offensive end, it's going to be interesting to see what happens in this battle.
The Tar Heels lose stud running back in Giovani Bernard, but AJ Blue should be a viable replacement this season. A big factor will also be their spread attack led by senior quarterback Bryn Renner who led the team to 40 points per game last year. He's joined by a couple returning receivers in Quinshad Davis and Sean Tapley. Will UNC pick up where they left off in 2012, or will USC's strength be too much? The Tar Heels didn't face quite the defense that the Gamecocks boast last year, so it should be a great test.
On the other end, South Carolina has a slight advantage as that's the area of the field UNC lacks the most. Connor Shaw looks ready to roll and is getting closer to complete health after a rocky offseason. If all goes well, Shaw should make improvements in his senior year and build on his current 10-0 record at home. While Marcus Lattimore is gone from the team, he missed the last four games of the season last year anyway. The replacement isn't really set in stone, but Shon Carson is getting a lot of attention as he's returning from a knee injury. Ace Sanders is gone from the passing game, but Bruce Ellington is still around which should help Shaw.
The Gamecocks are big favorites for a reason, with a defense that has the ability to stop Renner and an offense that can move the ball against a weaker opponent. However, this is the first game of the season so nothing is laid down easily for you to bet on.
The Tar Heels are 4-0 ATS in their last four Thursday games, but only 1-5 ATS in their last six road games. South Carolina looks a little better being 5-1 ATS in their last six against the ACC and a solid 7-2 ATS in their last nine home games.
Both of these teams lost a similar number of starters from last year. So, one of the things we look at when handicapping a week 1 college football game, is what would we have expected had these two teams played at the end of LAST season. One of the tools we use, is a model we developed that predicts final scores. We use data going back a few games as well as a full season. Regardless of the time frame of the data used in this case, our model has South Carolina on top by 20+ points. However, we will not be using this game as a Key Release. Note that Key Release subscribers receive our score predictions for every game on the board each week along with our official plays.
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