Matchup: #21 Texas A&M Aggies at #7 South Carolina Gamecocks
Date/Time: August 28, 6:00 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: South Carolina -10.5
The 2014 College Football Season officially kicks off for Division I FBS on Thursday night when the South Carolina Gamecocks welcome the Texas A&M Aggies to Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, SC. Both of these teams enter the 2014 season missing some key contributors from last season’s teams. The Aggies are without quarterback Johnny Manziel, wide receiver Mike Evans, and offensive tackle Jake Matthews, while the Gamecocks are without quarterback Connor Shaw, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, and wide receiver Bruce Ellington. That provides a lot of intrigue for Thursday’s season opener, in which the Gamecocks are favored by 10.5 with a total of 58.
Kevin Sumlin will have quite a job to do this season. After entering a pretty good situation at Houston with the final season of Kevin Kolb and the start of Case Keenum’s collegiate career, Sumlin entered his tenure at Texas A&M with Johnny Manziel. Manziel is gone now and sophomore quarterback Kenny Hill beat out very highly touted freshman Kyle Allen for the starting gig. Hill had just 22 attempts as a true freshman last season, so the Aggies offense certainly lacks experience at quarterback.
Of greater concern for Sumlin and Texas A&M is the defense. The Aggies allowed 32.2 points per game last season, over 10 points more than what they allowed per game in 2012. Without the safety net of an offense that regularly put up 40 points per game, the pressure will be on the defense to hold down the fort while the offense goes through some growing pains. Deshazor Everett should play on Sundays in the future and he anchors a secondary that should be the strength of the defense. The Aggies allowed 5.4 yards per carry last season and that’s a huge concern going up against a Gamecocks team with one of the top offensive lines in the conference and Heisman hopeful Mike Davis at running back.
South Carolina lost more than their quarterback when Connor Shaw graduated. They lost a winner, a leader, and an extension of the running game. New starter Dylan Thompson doesn’t have the same mobility that Shaw had, a trait that allowed Shaw and the Gamecocks to convert a lot of first downs over the last two seasons. Thompson is more of a pocket passer and Steve Spurrier will hope that this is the year that former Mr. South Carolina Shaq Roland lives up to his potential. The Cocks offense also found a deep threat last season in Damiere Byrd, who averaged over 17 yards per catch. Spurrier’s offense ran for nearly 200 yards per game as Mike Davis grabs the headlines, but there’s great depth with Brandon Wilds and Shon Carson to keep wearing down the opposing defense.
The Gamecocks do have some major inexperience on the defensive side of the ball. Not only did Jadeveon Clowney leave for the NFL, but Kelcy Quarles and Chaz Sutton are also missing from the defensive line and cornerbacks Victor Hampton and Jimmy Legree are also in different places. True sophomore Jabari Smith was supposed to start at cornerback, but a foot injury will cost him the season and the Gamecocks are very inexperienced in the secondary. The linebackers are a strength, but the Gamecocks could be very susceptible to the pass early on.
The Aggies are an underdog under Sumlin for just the sixth time. They are 2-3 ATS in those previous five games with one outright upset. The Gamecocks have been favored in each of their last 22 home games and they are 14-8 in that span.
Free College Football Pick: South Carolina Gamecocks
This will be a raucous, brutal environment for Kenny Hill’s first career start and the Gamecocks should have plenty of success running the football and keeping the ball away from the Texas A&M offense. The Aggies had trouble pressuring the quarterback last season with just 21 sacks and that should give Dylan Thompson some time to work through his progressions and find open receivers. It could become a shootout given each team’s strengths and weaknesses, but the Gamecocks have a strong home-field edge (32-2 SU since the 2009 season) and Steve Spurrier is one of the conference’s best coaches with extra time to prepare.
Adam Burke is a freelance writer and amateur handicapper with a knack for finding value through matchup analysis and a deep understanding of the sports betting market. His main area of expertise is baseball, with a background in sabermetrics and advanced statistics. He is the host of The Gridiron Gambling Report and our college football and college basketball BangTheBook.com podcasts on the BlogTalkRadio Network.