The NC State Wolfpack and the South Carolina Gamecocks start off the year in what is set to be a great ACC vs SEC matchup. The game kicks off at 3pm in Bank of America in Charlotte, NC. Although the game is being played in NC, Columbia is actually closer and the Gamecocks have a large presence in the area. So expect the stadium to be covered in garnet. The implications of this game loom large in the minds of NC State head coach Dave Doeren and South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp, as the winner will have bragging rights over their neighbors, and will be able to use this as an advantage in recruiting. Raleigh and Columbia are only separated by about 3 hours, so they often find themselves contacting the same recruits, which makes this game that much more important.
The Gamecocks ended the 2016 season ranked 120th in the nation in offense with just 327.5 yards per game. There are certainly greener pastures ahead as Will Muschamp returns 10 of his 11 offensive starters for his second season as South Carolina’s head coach. One of those starters is sophomore QB Jake Bentley, who threw for 1,420 yards and 9 touchdowns with 4 interceptions in just 7 games last year. His most impressive performance came in the Gamecock’s bowl game where he completed 32 of 43 passes for 390 yards and 3 touchdowns with 2 interceptions. Although they lost that game in OT against USF, it was a huge step forward in the young QB’s development.
South Carolina also returns sophomore running back Rico Dowdle who ended the year with 764 yards on 133 carries, but only played in the last nine games. His most impressive game came against Western Carolina, as Rico toted the rock for 226 yards on just 21 carries. Will Muschamp started building for the future by letting his QB and RB take over and grow at their respective positions. South Carolina also returns their leading receivers in WR Deebo Samuel who ended 2016 with 783 yards and TE Hayden Hurst who ended the year with 616 yards.
NC State has a Samuel of their own as they are returning one of their best players, Jaylen Samuels. Jaylen is listed as a WR/TE, but he has a reputation of doing it all when he steps on the field. Samuels was 2nd on the team in receiving yards, as he had 565 yards with 7 TDs to go along with 189 rushing yards and 5 rushing TDs. He even threw the ball 1 time for a 59 yard touchdown. NC State lines this kid up all over the field, whether it be at running back, wide receiver, tight end and in all different kinds of formations. His versatility has earned him the nickname “the swiss army knife” amongst teammates and fans. Expect to see him to make some big plays for the Wolfpack come Saturday. Ryan Finley will be the QB manning the offense for the men in red, and Jalan McClendon will come in on special packages to mix things up. The QB position will have to take a step forward if NC State wants to compete in the ACC this year.
NC State will have to replace about 60% of their running game production from last season, as Matthew Dayes left to play in the NFL. They will have to do that with a stable of running backs at first. Junior Reggie Gallaspy will be the bruiser who will be able to get the tough yards and run a couple of defenders over when needed. Gallaspy has showed some promise at times throughout the past two years and we expect to see him get some tough yards in the 2017 season. Senior Dakwa Nichols and junior Nyheim Hines round out the running backs, and they should get their fair share of carries as well. Hines is a small, yet incredibly speedy RB that could take it to the house at any time. Nyheim may be named the starter at this point, but expect to see all three of these players get carries come Saturday.
The area that NC State shines the most is definitely on the defensive line. They have an absolutel stud at defensive end in Bradley Chubb, cousin of UGA running back Nick Chubb, and you can see that football runs in the family. He led the Wolfpack with 10 sacks last season. They are one of the best defensive lines in the nation that nobody is talking about. Throw in Kentavius Street, Darian Roseboro, BJ Hill, and Justin Jones and South Carolina might have some trouble moving the ball on this wall of a defensive line. With three defensive ends like Street, Roseboro, and Chubb, State will be able to keep them fresh at all times, which is extremely dangerous for opposing offenses.
NC State’s defense will be the difference in this one, as South Carolina’s offense is still quite young. The Wolfpack should be able to find enough offense in Samuels, Hines, and others to get the best of the Gamecocks. Our prediction is 28 to 20 in favor of the NC State Wolfpack. While we don’t have NC State winning the ACC, we see them surprising a team like FSU or Clemson somewhere down the road this season.