NORTH CAROLINA STATE WOLFPACK (0-0)
vs SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS (0-0)
Bank of America Stadium – Charlotte, NC
Kickoff: Saturday, 3:00 p.m. ET
Line: NC State -5.0, Total: 52.5
Up-and-coming NC State and South Carolina squads open the season with a border war in Charlotte.
NC State salvaged a mediocre 2016 season with an upset at North Carolina to become bowl eligible, then beat Vanderbilt by 24 in the Independence Bowl to finish 7-6. QB Ryan Finley and star TE Jaylen Samuels return for the Wolfpack, and while the running backs lack experience, they’ll be running behind four returning starters on the offensive line. The defensive front has a chance to be special, returning six starters from last season’s solid unit, though the secondary has holes to plug. Will Muschamp’s first season at South Carolina went as well as could’ve been expected, as upsets over Vanderbilt and Tennessee earned the Gamecocks a bowl bid, where they lost to South Florida 46-39 as double-digit underdogs in the Birmingham Bowl. The offense has nowhere to go but up, returning ten starters, including QB Jake Bentley, to a unit that showed signs of life late in the year. The defense has experience at linebacker and in the secondary, but the defensive line is devoid of both pass-rushers and run-stuffers. South Carolina has beaten NC State in both of their matchups this century, winning 34-0 as 14.5-point home favorites in 2008, then 7-3 as 5.5-point road underdogs in 2009. In the past ten seasons, NC State is 1-5 SU & ATS versus SEC teams. In that same span, South Carolina is 11-6 SU & 12-5 ATS against the ACC.
QB Ryan Finley (3,059 passing yards, 18 TD, 8 INT) returns under center for NC State, and the Wolfpack need him to be less conservative and make more splash plays for an offense that ranked tied for 75th nationally in scoring (27.0 points per game). Hybrid TE Jaylen Samuels, who’s accounted for 1,719 yards from scrimmage and 29 TD in the past two seasons, is a huge asset as a receiver and a runner. Top WRs Stephen Louis (35 receptions, 678 yards, 2 TD) and Kelvin Harmon (27 receptions, 462 yards, 5 TD) also return. The departure of RB Matt Dayes leaves a gaping hole in the backfield, and Nyheim Hines (569 yards from scrimmage) will transition from WR to RB and likely be the No. 1 option in the running game behind an experienced O-line. NC State’s defensive line held opponents to 3.3 yards per carry (10th in FBS) last season, and returns all four starters. DE Bradley Chubb (10.5 sacks, 22 TFL) was a preseason First Team All-ACC selection, and DE Kentavius Street (5.5 sacks, 9 TFL) is a force opposite Chubb. The LB tandem of Airius Moore (86 total tackles, 13.5 TFL) and Jerod Fernandez (109 total tackles, 3 INT) was inconsistent in 2016, but the experienced duo has 69 career starts between them. The secondary held opponents to 6.8 yards per pass attempt last season (38th in FBS), but needs to replace three of five starters around CB Mike Stevens and S Josh Jones.
South Carolina’s offense returns ten starters from a unit that ranked 115th in yardage (348 yards per game) and 116th in scoring (20.8 points per game) last year. The offensive line struggled all season, and SC was particularly inept in the red-zone. Freshman QB Jake Bentley was a bright spot late in the year, throwing for 1,420 yards, 9 TD and 4 INT as the starter in the Gamecocks’ final seven contests, which included the biggest win of the season over Tennessee. Explosive WR Deebo Samuel (881 yards from scrimmage, 7 TD) and athletic TE Hayden Hurst (48 receptions for 616 yards) give Bentley excellent options in the passing game. The RB twosome of Rico Dowdle (819 yards from scrimmage, 7 TD) and A.J. Turner (640 yards from scrimmage, 4 TD) should be even more productive in 2017. SC’s defense wilted down the stretch last season, giving up 133 points in their last three games (which included 31 points by FCS Western Carolina). The Gamecocks managed a mere 21 sacks (92nd in FBS) last season, and return no one who had more than two of them. The defensive front also allowed 4.8 yards per rush (92nd in FBS) last season, and Muschamp acknowledges that they lack the depth up on the line. The linebacking group could be a strength, with LB Bryson Allen-Williams (75 total tackles, 8.5 TFL) joined by star LB Skai Moore, who led SC in tackles in each of his first three seasons before missing 2016 with a neck injury. The secondary did well to hold opponents to 6.7 yards per attempt (35th in FBS) last year despite the lackluster pass rush and returns every starter, including leading tackler S D.J. Smith (80 total tackles) and CBs Jamarcus King and Chris Lammons (3 INT each).