Previewing North Carolina Tar Heels at South Carolina Gamecocks

South Carolina Gamecocks-Williams-Brice Stadium

Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Who: No. 6 South Carolina vs. North Carolina

Where: Williams-Brice Stadium

When: 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time on ESPN

The Gamecocks and Tar Heels start their season with championship aspirations, and the opener is a tough test for Larry Fedora and Steve Spurrier’s clubs as the winner will take momentum of this border game into the next few games.

When North Carolina has the ball:

North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner is one of the best signal-callers in the entire country after back-to-back 3,000 yard passing seasons, and will likely leave as the owner of every passing record in school history.

The big test is finding a replacement for Gio Bernard among the trio of A.J. Blue, Romar Morris and early-enrollee Khris Francis. The trio benefits from running behind a strong offensive line despite the loss of Jonathan Cooper, and will be led by James Hurst.

Jadeveon Clowney is the best player in college football, and the Gamecocks’ defensive end will have all eyes on him and will make it difficult for Renner to get comfortable in the pocket all night. The superlatives are running thin with Clowney, who will surely do something special on Thursday night.

The linebacker unit has some question marks, but overall, this unit should benefit from playing behind the superior line which includes Kelcy Quarles, a freshman All-American defensive tackle in 2012.

When South Carolina has the ball:

Connor Shaw is the most underrated players in the country, and has three receivers on the Biletnikoff award watch list to throw the ball to. The Gamecocks’ offensive line struggled in pass protection the past two seasons, but is huge with every starter weighing more than 314-pounds. They should open up holes for blossoming star Mike Davis, who filled in admirably after Marcus Lattimore was lost for the year.

The Heels lost tackle Sylvester Williams and linebacker Kevin Reddick, but return all four starters in the secondary including leading tackler Tre` Boston, who also tied for the team lead with four interceptions. Defensive end Kareem Martin could be one of the top players at his position in the ACC. If he can get to Shaw a couple times Thursday, he could make life difficult for Shaw.

Patrick’s a college football writer for Rant Sports and radio host on Sportstownchicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickASchmidt and add him to your Google network.

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