Following a close loss at Missouri last weekend, South Carolina returns home for yet another night game this Saturday against the Auburn Tigers.
The Gamecocks enter this contest with an even 5-5 record straight up and a slightly worse 4-5-1 record against the spread. Having covered only once on the road this whole year (Georgia), maybe returning home will be a welcoming sight for USC. The Cocks only dropped one game at Williams-Brice Stadium all year, which was a six-point loss to Kentucky back in September.
As for Auburn, they are 6-4 straight up and 5-5 ATS. Things can only improve for this squad after pulling a Falcons and blowing a 28-3 lead to Mississippi State last week. The Tigers were ranked as high as the No. 13 team in the country earlier this year, but after two straight tough losses, they return to the ranks (or lack thereof ha ha) of the unranked.
What is clear, though, is how much both teams want this game in order to return to form and, hopefully, finish the season strong.
Oddsmakers are currently giving Auburn the edge in this one by 7.5 points, according to VegasInsider.com. Much like last week, the line has traveled a bit from where it opened. In this case, it made its journey down to 7.5 points from 10.
ESPN’s FPI gives South Carolina a 23.9% chance of pulling off the upset versus Auburn.
The over/under is set at 44.5 points.
Why was the line set at this number?
Although I would have set the line closer to 10 points, there are definitely a few reasons why it seems to have found its home at around 7.5 points in Auburn’s favor.
First of all, how good is this Auburn squad without Bo Nix at the helm? We’ve been used to a pretty balanced offensive attack from Auburn when it comes to rushing and throwing, but does that change now that TJ Finley is running the show?
I’m sure no one wants to revisit this memory, but when Finley played the Gamecocks as a member of LSU last season, he had no issues running or throwing the ball, passing for 265 yards with three touchdowns (one rushing) and a QBR of 91.8.
So, as long as he has a full grasp of the playbook, I’m sure he can run an effective offense without causing it to take too big of a step back.
Despite those feelings of optimism, the fear of the unknown still remains.
Next — like I said before — this Gamecock team is a different animal in front of its home fans.
They are giving up an average of 13.4 points at home versus a whopping 35.4 points on the road and scoring an average of 26 at home versus 19 on the road.
This means Auburn is likely getting the best version of the Gamecocks on Saturday.
Lastly, South Carolina defeated Auburn last year with, in my opinion, an inferior team.
The defense may have been better on paper with Jaycee Horn having one of his statement games with two picks and four pass deflections against the Tigers, but it was still during the Muschamp era that is basically summed up as all talent with no results.
They also picked off Bo Nix three times, which will be tough to replicate even with a backup quarterback.
What will have to happen for the Gamecocks to cover?
Auburn has scored at least 30 points in three of its last four games, meaning USC needs to shut down a relatively potent offense or they need to rack up some points themselves.
After Florida allowed 52 points to Samford last week, the Gamecock victory over the Gators two weeks ago is losing more and more of its luster by the day, and it’s becoming less about South Carolina’s dominance offensively and more about Florida’s incompetence defensively.
Now that the Florida game is looking more like an outlier as opposed to a sign of things to come, I have a hard time believing the offense (most notably the offensive line) will whip itself into shape.
In order to cover the spread, it’s looking increasingly likely that the Gamecock defense will have to force some turnovers, which could be difficult considering Auburn is only averaging one turnover per game, or force them to punt on numerous occasions.
When the Tigers score more than 24.4 points (the amount the Gamecocks surrender on average per game), they are 4-2 against the spread and 5-1 overall. Basically, if Auburn is average offensively, they will likely win and cover, according to the numbers at least.
My other key to covering revolves around the offensive line having some success.
We saw how Jason Brown performed with time to work with against Florida. We also saw how the backs performed when they actually had holes to run through. A good day for the offensive line will lead to getting points on the board and will only help keep this game close.
What’s the better bet?
The last section was a mouthful.
If that much needs to happen for the Cocks to have a shot, maybe it’s just not meant to be.
I’m not calling for a blowout, but predicting South Carolina to finish this game within a touchdown of Auburn is a bit much to ask, at least to me.
If the Tigers could beat Arkansas by 15 on the road, I don’t see this game being too much of a struggle for them.
I’m predicting Auburn to cover and win by 10 to 17 points.