The 2014 College Football season opens with a superb Thursday night (6:00pm ET) SEC matchup featuring the 21st ranked Texas A&M Aggies and the 9th ranked South Carolina Gamecocks from Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, SC. This will be the first ever meeting between the two schools as A&M begins its 3rd season in the SEC, and will also be the first game ever televised on the SEC network. The Aggies finished 9-4 last season with a 52-48 comeback win over Duke in the Chick-fil-A-Bowl, and the Gamecocks finished 11-2 with a 34-24 win over Wisconsin in the Citrus Bowl.
The Aggies will of course be featuring a new quarterback in sophomore Kenny Hill who will be attempting to fill the shoes of the departed Johnny Football, and will have to replace two other All-Americans in wide receiver Mike Evans and left tackle Jake Matthews. Receviers Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil, a freshman, will give Hill to dynamic targets that he can utilize to attack a Gamecock secondary that will be featuring two new starters at cornerback. A&M may have their biggest challenge on defense, as the Aggies allowed 222.3 YPG rushing last season and ranked 76th in the nation in football outsiders defensive S&P last season . A&M will start five redshirt or true freshman in this game, including nose man Zaycoven Henderson and safety Armani Watts. With so much youth in key positions they will be challenged against a formidable Gamecock running game.
South Carolina also has to replace several stars from last season’s squad including defensive end Jadeveon Clowney who was the number one overall pick in the NFL draft, and quarterback Connor Shaw. Fifth year senior Dylan Thompson who has seen extended action the last few seasons when Shaw missed time with injuries and threw for 261 yards against Central Florida and 222 yards against Missouri last year. Wide receiver Damiere Byrd returns after catching 33 passes for 575 yards last season. The Gamecocks return four starters on the offensive line and star tailback Mike Davis (1,183 yards rushing in 2013) from last season, so look for them to pound the rock with Davis, Shon Carsson and Brandon Wilds who combined for 477 yards rushing last year, to control the clock and take some pressure off their new starting QB.
Texas A&M vs. South Carolina Spread, Line and Betting Odds:
Texas A&M Aggies +10.5
@South Carolina Gamecocks -10.5
Over 58 (-110)
Under 58 (-110)
Betting odds taken from BetOnline.ag
Texas A&M vs. South Carolina Pick:
South Carolina has won 18 straight games at home and not lost an opener in the Steve Spurrier era which began in 2005. This will be the first ever meeting between the two teams, so there are no head-to-head trends to study here. The Gamecocks are undefeated under Spurrier on Thursday night, including SEC wins over Mississippi St. in 2006 and Vanderbilt in 2012. South Carolina is 33-6 over the last 3 seasons, and it has been a tall order for any team to come into Columbia and claim a victory in recent years.
Texas A&M featured on of the weakest defenses in the SEC last season, and their horrendous secondary was not the only problem as the Aggies allowed 5.4 yards per rush last season as well. The Aggies will be operating with little margin for error in the tough road environment in Columbia, and Hill cannot afford to turn the ball over if they are to have any chance to steal a win here. With the Gamecocks averaging 198.5 YPG on the ground in 2013, they should be able to run the ball and eat up the clock, keeping A&M’s fast-paced offense on the sidelines. The Gamecocks downhill running game should wear down the young Aggie defense and limit the opportunities for Hill and his speedy receivers by keeping the ball out of their hands. South Carolina also has a key edge in experience at the quarterback position with the experienced Thompson, who has won in the SEC before and should be able to take advantage of the soft A&M secondary with play-action passes. With no more Johnny Football magic to put them over the top A&M will struggle to match their offensive production over a year ago, take the Gamecocks to cover in this game.