Things may be picking up for South Carolina in terms of hype for its 2022 season, but there is still one game left to play in this one.
Following a break spanning about a month, the Cocks are making the short trip North to Charlotte for the Duke’s Mayo Bowl (previously Belk Bowl) this Thursday against the North Carolina Tar Heels.
South Carolina comes into this matchup 6-6 on the year with a slightly worse 5-6-1 record against the spread.
Thankfully, the time off has helped me forget the product the Gamecocks displayed last time they took the field, but on the bright side, this team’s performance against UNC will at least be an improvement from that!
The Tar Heels — with a record of 6-6 and a mediocre 5-7 record ATS — are trying to rebound from a close loss but a moral victory (if you believe in that) against NC State.
They are a tough team for me to put my finger on having played close games against quality opponents like NC State, Pitt, Wake Forest and Notre Dame while also suffering bad losses to Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Florida State.
Nonetheless, the Tar Heels are currently favored over the Gamecocks by nine points, according to DraftKings Sportsbook. The line has also traveled a bit in North Carolina’s direction after opening with a 5.5-point spread in UNC’s favor.
ESPN’s FPI gives South Carolina a 30.2% chance of securing the victory.
The over/under is set at 58 points.
Why was the line set at this number?
Taking the spread’s journey from 5.5 points to 9 into account, I’m going to assume the absences of Brown, Enagbare and White — among others — have been looming large in the minds of oddsmakers.
Teams always attempt to use a “next man up” mentality after losing players like that, but those shoes will be tough to fill.
Next, I honestly believe UNC is a “good” 6-6 team. Some say, “You are what your record says you are,” but the average .500 team doesn’t have one of the best quarterback in the nation and doesn’t go toe-to-toe with those teams I named previously.
The Tar Heels may be guilty of playing down to their opponents at times, but according to the eye test and their past performances, I believe this is a team that deserves to be favored by nine points.
Finally, recent history has to be taken into account here.
I shouldn’t have to remind Gamecock fans, but Bank of America Stadium has not been kind to them lately.
Since 2019, South Carolina has played there twice and has racked up two gut-wrenching losses, including one to North Carolina. One of those losses was even at this bowl game three seasons ago.
The Cocks lost to the Tar Heels 24-20 in the team’s last appearance at Bank of America Stadium while allowing Sam Howell — a true freshman at the time — to throw for 245 yards and two touchdowns.
So, yeah... There are much better places to play than this one.
On the bright side, the Tar Heels and Gamecocks have played four times since 2007, and the Cocks came out on top three of those times. Maybe history will repeat itself!
What will have to happen for the Gamecocks to cover?
In what will likely be a shootout, the offensive line *needs* to protect Zeb Noland if USC wants to keep up.
We’ve seen him have success as long as he has time to throw (ex. Vanderbilt). Zeb just can’t move around the pocket and evade defenders the way Jason Brown can.
If the offensive line gives him time to work with, he has a chance to dominate a defense that has been more giving through the air in comparison to on the ground. That’s a big “if” though...
At the end of the day, the Tar Heels allow an average of 31.6 PPG with most of their contests involving stellar opposing quarterback play. Whether the offensive line has a day or not, I think Zeb will find a way to make things happen.
The Gamecock defense is basically the opposite in that they have a rather stout pass defense but a struggling run defense.
UNC definitely prefers to pass, but their run game cannot be ignored either. We’ve seen Tar Heel running back Ty Chandler run for 198 yards against Virginia and 213 yards against Wake Forest, so they wouldn’t exactly be “settling” with a change in game plan.
If this is a low-scoring game, South Carolina likely has the edge (especially with a spread that large), but if North Carolina finds its groove on offense, which is likely, the Cocks need to find a way to match it.
What’s the better bet?
There is a trend for this game that doesn’t look too great for South Carolina.
When the Gamecocks are underdogs by nine or more points, they have one victory in five tries with that one win being against Florida. What that tells me is when this team is supposed to fold, they usually do.
I hate to say it, but I’m picking North Carolina to win and cover here by 14 to 24 points.
My more in-depth prediction will come with this week’s release of the Roundtable Predictions!
If there’s any consolation, I’ve picked incorrectly in four straight games now after starting the season hot, so this all but guarantees the Cocks at least cover the spread!