If there were questions coming into 2013 about which southern conference was tops, last night provided some answers. The South Carolina Gamecocks struck an early blow for the Southeastern Conference in the annual debate over southern football superiority. Steve Spurrier’s team lit up the night quicker than the lightning bolts flashing outside Williams-Brice Stadium in an impressive 27-10 victory over the North Carolina Tar Heels.
I know the ACC has non-southern member institutions, but let’s face it: The conference’s best teams reside below the Mason Dixon line. Those same teams also have rivalries with SEC schools, so for the sake of argument, we’ll consider the ACC “southern” football.
Some folks, however, desperately need a lesson in southern geography.
Will the ACC fall flat on its face and start 0-3 against the SEC? It’s already battling uphill, and the SEC enjoys a 280-135-10 all-time record in games between teams in the two conferences.
After that game, there’s no question South Carolina is the better team. After this weekend, it could be blatantly obvious which conference is better. It was a disappointing start for the ACC, which has two more chances against SEC opponents in Week 1. The Alabama-Virginia Tech game could end up being very similar to this one, so it could be up to Clemson to salvage the conference’s reputation – though it won’t be easy against the Georgia Bulldogs.
The Tar Heels were no match for South Carolina, even without the normal level of services from Jadeveon Clowney, the reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year and preseason Heisman favorite. He was sucking wind and he cramped often while trying to keep up with UNC’s up-tempo offense. He didn’t get one sack and he said he had a stomach virus the night before, but frankly, it didn’t matter.
There was no need to wait for the fourth-quarter weather delay, as North Carolina was battered and pretty much beaten early by the powerful storm that was the Gamecocks. South Carolina out-gained the Tar Heels 203 yards to 35 in the opening quarter. By the time Mike Davis broke a 75-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, the officials might as well called this one.
South Carolina’s performance is just a preamble for what’s to come Saturday night when the No. 1 Crimson Tide tees it up against Virginia Tech. Bama, too, has an offense that could come out guns blazing and put a lot of points up before the Hokies can say Sandman. Quarterback AJ McCarron and his ridiculously talented receiving corps should have no problem connecting against a Virginia Tech secondary that’s battling injuries and inexperience. Wideouts Amari Cooper and Kenny Bell could each have career nights in the Georgia Dome.
Then there’s the frightening stable of Bama backs to worry about. Sophomore TJ Yeldon might be the best running back in the SEC – yes, even better than Georgia’s Todd Gurley. He’ll split carries with bruising freshman Derrick Henry (6-foot-3, 238-pounds). By the third quarter, Hokies defenders will be battered, bruised and winded. I wouldn’t be surprised if the final score is even more lopsided than the Carolina directional game.
That leaves the ACC one final opportunity for success against the SEC in Week 1, and it rests in the hands of Tajh Boyd and No. 8 Clemson. The Tigers host No. 5 Georgia in a game that’s pretty much a toss-up. There’s already been much debate about which quarterback – Boyd or UGA’s Aaron Murray – will have the best game and lead his team to victory in this huge non-conference battle. One thing seems certain; these two high-powered offenses could set off a lot of fireworks in the other Death Valley. The folks in Vegas are setting the point total somewhere around 70.
If Georgia prevails, the ACC’s 2013 reputation could be irreversibly damaged and will undoubtedly be called into question when bowl selections are made in December. If the Tigers win, however, a lot will be redeemed for the ACC.
It will be exciting to watch it all unfold, and regardless of what happens, the debate among fans of the two conferences will likely continue. At least all southerners can take comfort in knowing without a doubt the best college football is played in the south – at least for one weekend.