Week 1: North Carolina State

I really like playing these North Carolina Schools. Given the proximity and the ACC history with some of the teams, these games just mean more than other non-conference games. I also like that the Gamecocks are 9-0 against teams from North Carolina this millennium. The last time South Carolina lost to a North Carolina school was 1999, when the Gamecocks faced N.C. State in Raleigh during a tropical storm to open both the season and Lou Holtz's tenure as head coach. These games also mean a lot in terms of recruiting. South Carolina is the closest SEC program to most of the high school players in North Carolina, and moreover is generally the closest 'football' school. USC in pursuing some potential key pieces for next year's defense from the state, namely Dax Hollifield and Rick Sandidge, and beating a home-state school in Charlotte can't hurt the cause.

The Wolfpack has been hyped up all off-season. Cole Cubelic even has them picked as CFP participant. They return 18 starters and these guys gave Clemson and Florida State all they wanted last year. They also lost to an eventual 3-win East Carolina team and to Boston College. Their DL is completely legit, as they could possibly have 5 guys drafted off of that unit next April, but their secondary is not very impressive and will be missing their best player. The Wolfpack had the 8th best rushing defense last year, but were something like 93rd in passing defense. N.C. State seems to prioritize size on defense, as they are big at almost every position.

On offense, they're overall fairly average, although they do have All-American H-back / All-purpose stud Jaylen Samuels. They've moved speedster Nyheim Hines to RB from WR, and Ryan Finley is solid and experienced at QB. I took a look at his 2016 stats a few days ago. I also think their OL is better than people give them credit for. They use a lot of pre-snap motion as opposed to pace to challenge the defense.

I think this is a tough match-up on the lines of scrimmage for the Gamecocks, with the Wolfpack having the definite edge there. I think the SC OL will be better this season, but I'm not counting on it until I see it. Overall I think the Gamcocks are much more athletic at the skill positions, particularly the SC WRs/TEs vs the N.C. State secondary. We're going to struggle to run the ball effectively, but I think we can be very successful with short passes early. I also think South Carolina has better coaching and that the defense will show more improvement than expected. The x-factor is Skai Moore, who I project to have a big game and help the Gamecocks win the turnover battle.

Prediction: USC 24 - N.C. State 20 (the lady of the house has USC 27 - N.C. State 24)

You can see the last match-up with N.C. State below, but I don't recommend it....