With less than a week away from the start of college football season, some fans are beginning to feel more nervous about their teams’ first games.
On Thursday night six days from now, the No. 6 South Carolina Gamecocks will host the North Carolina Tar Heels in a nationally-televised game to open the season: a game that could feature the best quarterback that no one talks about.
North Carolina’s Bryn Renner is coming of back-to-back seasons in which he passed for over 3,000 yards and only seems to be improving each year. In 2011, Renner threw 26 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, but he cut down on his turnovers by only throwing seven interceptions while also tossing 28 touchdown passes in 2012.
Everyone knows that South Carolina has a stout defense led by Jadeveon Clowney and a host of NFL-caliber defensive lineman. The Gamecocks will be young and inexperienced at the linebacker position, but return standouts Jimmy Legree and Victor Hampton in the secondary, who are capable of making an impact in the run game as well as in the passing game.
However, the game between the two Carolina’s should not be seen as an automatic win for Steve Spurrier‘s group, because UNC has the talent and playmakers to make this a close game. The Gamecocks are right in the middle of their glory days of football as they have had back-to-back 11-win seasons for the first time in school history, but they had numerous close calls last season.
For those of you that have not seen Spurrier’s offense as of late, this is no longer a run-and-gun team. South Carolina is more of a running team these days led by their senior quarterback Connor Shaw, who can do major damage with his legs, but also is efficient enough through the air that defenses have to respect him.
The matchup to watch, however, is how Renner will perform against this South Carolina defense. UNC only returns two starters on the offensive line, and they will be given the task of dealing with arguably the best defensive line in the country. If the offensive line can give Renner enough time to go through his reads, then he will find playmakers to get the ball to.
Renner might not be happy about going up against Clowney and company, but he is happy that he returns his top two receivers from last season in Quinshad Davis (61 RECc, 776 YDs, five TDs) and versatile tight end Eric Ebron (40 REC, 625 YDs, four TDs). The Heels did lose all-everything running back Giovani Bernard, but do have guys with experience returning with A.J. Blue and Romar Morris.
Another factor to consider in the first game is that South Carolina travels to Athens the following week in an important matchup against their SEC East rival Georgia, a team they have beaten three straight years for the first time in school history.
One has to wonder if the Gamecocks will be looking forward a little bit and not fully focus on North Carolina. It is no doubt that few coaches can draw up plays like The Old Ball Coach, but it will have to be defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward who will have to dial up different looks to throw at Renner to try to rattle his confidence.
Winning in Williams-Brice stadium is no easy task, as the Gamecocks have won 11 straight home games and have some of the loudest fans in the SEC, but the Larry Fedora-led Tar Heels are always a tough out, especially with a quarterback with the skill set of Renner.
This will show how much improvement UNC has made from year one to year two under Fedora with six starters returning on offense and seven starters returning on defense. This could be the most talented team in the Coastal division, and a win in Columbia, SC would go a long way in proving that notion.
So just because the Tar Heels are not ranked does not mean that they are not capable of winning a game like this, as I fully expect UNC to give the Gamecocks all they can handle and then some.
Travis Patterson, Writer for ACC for Rantsports.com. Follow on Twitter @tpat20