North Carolina at #6 South Carolina, 6:00 PM, ESPN
Football season has arrived and the Tar Heels will open the season with a stern test as they face South Carolina in Columbia. In the world of quirky college football scheduling this is actually the return game for the 21-15 Gamecock win in 2007 at Kenan Stadium. Butch Davis was in his first season and with the subsequent NCAA issues that game feels like eons ago.
The first game of the season, especially one that is nationally televised and versus a top ten team can be fraught with all sorts of weirdness. There is a definite emotional high and the danger players might be a little too amped up for their own good. Then there is some of the haphazard execution that sometimes accompanies early season game. Ideally, when a major conference team squares off against an FCS school in the opener, the kinks can be worked out. Inexperienced or first time starters can work through the newness of it all. There is no such margin for adjustment in this game and it should be noted that runs both directions. You can also factor in the fact UNC should be the looser team on the field. UNC has nothing to lose and it's possible South Carolina might get caught peeking ahead to the match-up with Georgia next weekend.
For UNC the success in this game and this season rides primarily on the offense. Any team that has a quality and experienced quarterback is in a great position to have some success. UNC has that in three year starter Bryn Renner. The fifth year senior is on the verge of breaking multiple UNC passing records and has a huge opportunity to really build his NFL draft stock during the upcoming season. Renner ended last season reeling off four straight games with 300+ yards of passing in each while throwing for 13 TDs versus only two interceptions. If Renner can come relatively close to hitting that stride out of the gate it really improves UNC's chances. That and the tempo which could make South Carolina uncomfortable not to mention introduce fatigue as a potential factor.
The question, given the presence of Jadeveon Clowney on the Gamecock defensive line is how will the Tar Heel offensive line hold up? And if UNC manages to do a fair job containing Clowney, does that open the door for other Gamecock defensive players to make plays? As good as Renner can be, the offensive front still needs to control the line of scrimmage and one of A.J. Blue, Romar Morris or Khris Francis needs to produce while rushing the football. WR Quinshad Davis is from South Carolina and would love to leave his mark on the flagship school in his home state. Hopefully Davis can have a game on the level all of those jilted basketball recruits from North Carolina have when they play the Tar Heels on the hardwood.
On the defensive side for UNC everyone is wondering if there will be a massive improvement over some of the debacles seen last season. South Carolina QB Connor Shaw is mobile and has a stable of good receivers even with Bruce Ellington possibly being out or limited. This is will be a tough gauntlet for a defense that was awfully suspect a year ago. That being said, Vic Koenning has a reputation of building good defensive units and if history repeats itself here, hopefully there will be a pleasant surprise in how this unit performs for the Tar Heels.
It goes without saying this is an incredible opportunity for Larry Fedora and the UNC football to snag a program defining win. My own jaded outlook from years of watching UNC football not win games of this nature keeps me from holding onto to too much optimism here. In the end, I think UNC will play well and be very competitive but simply fall short. It would be nice if UNC can strike a blow for the ACC and get a statement victory against Steve Spurrier. However such a thing doesn't seem likely.
SCAR 26 UNC 20