This Saturday marks the first full slate of college football this year and the first time that the Gamecocks of South Carolina and the Wolfpack of NC State will take the field. They take the field at 3:00 PM on Saturday, September 2nd at a somewhat neutral location in The Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC.

Both teams are in remarkable similar situations to start the year. Both teams are the sexy sleeper picks to win their respective conference divisions and both intend on building upon last year’s success stories. Someone has to come out on top of this closely matched game at a 5 point spread and I’ve got the scoop on the key match-ups to watch during the game.

Key Match-ups of the game:

Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

NC State Defensive front v.s. South Carolina’s run game:

The Wolfpack have arguably one of the best defensive lines in the country. They return all four starters from last year, including Bradley Chubb, who posted a very respectable 10.5 sacks and added 3 forced fumbles a season ago. The d-line unit was ranked number two in the FBS on first down defense last season and there is no reason to think they won’t be able to maintain that position this year as well.

They will be going up against a very strong running back committee in Rico Dowdle, A.J. Turner, and Ty’son Williams. Last year, Dowdle posted 764 yards, 5.7 yards per carry and 6 touchdowns in only nine games. Turner wasn’t too shabby himself, rushing for 497 yards, 4.3 yards per carry, and 4 touchdowns. Turner also added 21 catches for 143 yards and 1 touchdown through the air. Ty’son is a transfer from UNC that should also get some playing time in his first eligible game for South Carolina.

Nod goes to NC State

 

South Carolina’s Deebo Samuel dives for a touchdown against Vanderbilt during fourth-quarter action in Nashville, Tenn. on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016. (Travis Bell/SIDELINE CAROLINA)

NC State Secondary v.s. South Carolina Wide-Outs

NC State comes into this Saturday’s game without veteran Mike Stevens at the cornerback position, due to a knee injury sustained in the off-season. Stevens started all eleven games last year and was arguably the best CB for the Wolfpack. His replacement will be Johnathan Alston, who is a fifth year senior but is also a receiver turned cornerback. That doesn’t bold well against the Gamecocks perimeter receivers.

The Gamecocks are loaded with returning skill players. Headlining the group is wide-outs Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards. As a starter last year, Deebo hauled in 59 receptions for 783 yards and averaged 13.3 yards per catch with surprising only one touchdown. The lack of touchdown grabs was made up for by the receiver designed running plays. Samuel ran the ball in six times last season. Edwards, a true freshman last season, had 44 receptions for 590 yards and four touchdowns. Edwards size at 6’3″ and 215lbs, allows him the ability to go up and snatch the ball out of the air. If Jake Bentley has time to throw the ball, these two should have terrific numbers when the clock reaches zero on the scoreboard.

Nod goes to USC Wide-Outs

Ryan Finley NC State QB Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan Finley v.s. USC Secondary

Ryan Finley had a very solid season last year for the Wolfpack. He threw for 3055 yards and 18 touchdowns. The only knock on Finley is his decision to force the ball into areas at times. He threw 8 interceptions last year and a few of those were on crucial drives. It will remain to be seen if he can improve on that in week 1 of the new year.

The Gamecocks secondary played stellar last season, or so it looks on paper. The numbers are slightly skewed, due to the fact that everyone was able to find success running the ball against the defense. When they were challenged through the air though, Carolina usually played the ball very well. They will get some some help with the return of Skai Moore at the linebacker position. Moore has 11 career interceptions for the gamecocks and will take the field for the first time since 2015. He sat out last year under a medical redshirt. I wouldn’t be surprised if Skai picks one off in this game.

Slight Nod goes to USC Secondary

This game will set the tone for the year for both of these teams. A win on Saturday makes it very possible to reach 9 wins for the victor by season’s end. Muschamp and Doeren are both looking forward to this one. “I think it’s good to lead the season off against a really good football team,” Muschamp said. “We’re looking forward to the opportunity to play in Charlotte against South Carolina,” Doeren said in mid-week. “It’s been a good week of practice with the guys. A little break in the weather for them, as well. It’s nice to be into this mode of the season. Looking forward to seeing a lot of hard work from our coaches and our players against a great opponent at an incredible venue for them to play in.”

Look for this one to be one of the most competitive match-ups of the weekend, most likely coming down to a final drive and potentially a field goal opportunity to seal a victory. Strap in guys, it’s going to be a good one!

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