South Carolina and Mississippi State didn't meet on the football field until 1992 when the Gamecocks joined the SEC. The two were paired as permanent cross-division rivals through 2002, so I remember a lot of games against the Bulldogs from my formative football watching years. Mississippi State is actually one of only three SEC teams that the Gamecocks have a winning record against (Vanderbilt and Kentucky being the other two), with SC leading the series 9-6. The Gamecocks' current 7-game winning streak began in 2000 in a game that featured one of the most iconic plays in the history of the program: Erik Kimrey coming in late in the 4th in relief of an injured Phil Petty to throw 'the Fade.'
A little over a week ago I predicted South Carolina to take their first loss of the season in this game. That was before the Bulldogs lost 21-20 to South Alabama, however, and the Gamecocks performed better on defense than I expected in their win over Vanderbilt. Life without Dak Prescott is certainly more difficult than many Miss State faithful thought it would be. South Carolina learned a similar lesson 2 years ago when they gave up 52 points to Texas A&M in the first game without Clowney. I believe Prescott was somewhere near 75% of the Bulldogs' offense in 2015, accounting for 39 TDs and leading the team in rushing yards. It was evident in last week's game against South Alabama that Mississippi State hasn't found the solution to replacing Prescott's production, and chances are they won't anytime soon.
One of the bigger stories for this game is it is the likely debut of Jeffery Simmons after his one-game suspension for beating a woman prior to his enrollment in Starkville. Here's video of the 5-star, 6'4" 300lb defensive lineman punching a woman on the ground repeatedly:
So, if the Gamecocks' OL can somehow find a way to do this guy a bit dirty, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world....
I think between Orth and McIlwain SC will have better QB play in this game. Apart from the general challenges presented by having the QB play a major role in the run game, nothing about the Bulldog offense is very scary. Fred Ross is a great receiver, but the QB can't threaten with deep balls. The Gamecocks will have to focus on great tackling on the perimeter to defend the copious amounts of bubble screens they will see.
The Mississippi State front seven is very good and will be bolstered by the addition of the dirt-bag discussed above, but their secondary is in even worse shape than the Gamecocks'. Both of their starting corners from last year are gone, and the two guys slated to replace them are out with injuries. I don't think the run game will be very successful for SC, but I think if the OL does their job and minimizes pressure on passing plays, the Gamecocks will have success going over the top. Last week SC had 9 explosive plays, and I'm predicting 10+ in this game. Given the youth on the Gamecocks' offense, I think we'll see an improved performance mainly through a reduction in mistakes.
As for special teams, last week Mississippi State missed a game-winning 28-yard kick while the Gamecocks nailed a game-winning 55-yarder. Enough said, advantage Carolina.
Prediction: USC 23 - Mississippi State 20
Check out the last meeting meeting against Mississippi State in 2013 below: