The 2015 college football season kicks off next week, and there could be a mild upset on opening night with North Carolina downing South Carolina on Thursday.
Look for the ACC to get the best of the mighty SEC on the opening night of the 2015 college football season Thursday, September 3rd when Steve Spurrier’s South Carolina Gamecocks could be running into a buzzsaw taking on the North Carolina Tar Heels of the ACC at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC at 6:00 ET in a game televised nationally on ESPN.
The point spread at Pinnacle Sports has North Carolina as a small underdog for this contest with the current line at +3 with odds of -112.
Both Teams Had 6-6 Regular Seasons
Both of these teams went 6-6 during the regular season last year, although they each had differing bowl results. South Carolina accomplished its 6-6 mark vs. a much tougher schedule of course playing in the SEC, and the Gamecocks then went on to nip the Miami Hurricanes (like North Carolina, an ACC team) 24-21 in the Independence Bowl.
The Tar Heels overcame having one of the worst defenses in the country, ranking 119th nationally in points against at 39.0 per game and 120th in total defense at 498.1 yards per game allowed, to finish 6-6 while playing an ACC schedule before being the losing college football picks in the Quick Lane Bowl 40-21 to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
Now, we would normally not be so supportive of a team that played very little defense while facing an SEC team out of conference, but we have reason to believe that UNC will be a bit improved defensively and the Heels could be aided by facing a rebuilding South Carolina team.
Just Four Returning Offensive Starters
The Gamecocks return only 12 total starters from last season, with only four of the returnees being on offense! Gone are quarterback Dylan Thompson and his 26 touchdowns vs.. 11 interceptions of a year ago and leading rusher Mike Davis, who fell just short of 1000 yards rushing with 982 along with eight touchdowns.
Furthermore, South Carolina did not officially name the replacement for Thompson at quarterback until just last week, when it settled on Connor Mitch, who threw only six passes as a freshman last year and completed just two of them. Sure, Mitch had a great high school career and he does have a nice wide receiver to throw to in one of the four returnees Pharoh Cooper, but he is starting behind a revamped offensive line and is unproven under pressure.
Now the defense does return eight starters, but we are not so sure that is a good thing as that unit was one of the worst defenses South Carolina has had in a long time year while applying practically no pressure on opposing quarterbacks, thus exposing a secondary that was slow by SEC standards while constantly giving up big plays.
Gene Chizik Factor
Speaking of defenses allowing big plays, the loss by North Carolina to Rutgers in the Quick Lane Bowl marked the sixth time in 13 games last year that the Tar Heels allowed at least 40 points. Unlike South Carolina however, North Carolina at least is doing something in an attempt to help the defense by hiring Gene Chizik as the defensive coordinator.
Chizik is a defensive mastermind that knows a thing or two about defending SEC offenses, having led Auburn to the 2010 National Championship when the Tigers defeated Oregon 22-19 in the title game after going 9-0 and allowing 13.4 points per game inside the SEC that season. Chizik’s biggest task will be improving the run defense, and to that end he is changing the scheme from a 4-2-5 defense to a 4-3.
The pass defense actually improved as the season went on last year allowing less than 300 passing yards in each of the last seven games, so at least Chizik has some talent and experience to work with in the secondary.
The offense is not a concern for the Tar Heels as that unit averaged 33.2 points last season ranking 38th in the country and it returns all the starters at the skill positions, the most important of whom is quarterback Marquise Williams, who passed for 3068 passing yards and 21 touchdowns in 2014 while adding 788 rushing yards and 13 more touchdowns on the ground.
Not Good in Non-Conference Road Games
Finally, South Carolina is one SEC school that has not fared well away from home when stepping out of conference, going just 5-12 ATS (8-9 straight up) in its last 17 non-conference games either on the road or on neutral fields! Also, North Carolina is 3-1 ATS in its last four games vs. the SEC.
With South Carolina breaking in new starters at both quarterback and running back in what is essentially a road game in Charlotte (although this is technically a neutral site), we recommend backing North Carolina to pull off a mild surprise on the first night of the college football season on Thursday, September 3rd.
College Football Pick: North Carolina +3 (-112)