South Carolina started the year on a high note, downing Georgia State by three touchdowns and covering the spread. The Gamecocks now find themselves fighting an uphill battle to get to 2-0 as they hit the road to face the 16th-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks this Saturday at noon.
The Gamecocks are definitely looking to improve offensively — with most of the emphasis hopefully going toward the run game and the offensive line — although this squad seemingly has its pass defense and special teams handled.
Much like South Carolina, Arkansas also covered the spread (by the skin of its teeth, though) in week one against 23rd-ranked Cincinnati, beating the Bearcats by seven points against a 6.5-point spread.
So, we get to see two box office quarterbacks in Spencer Rattler and KJ Jefferson go head-to-head in addition to a respected squad squaring up with a hungry Gamecock team fighting for some.
No matter how many storylines I may concoct, Arkansas remains favored by a healthy eight points against South Carolina, according to DraftKings Sportsbook.
The line has mainly hovered around that number since its opening, although you can find the number as large as nine points now at certain books.
ESPN’s FPI gives the Cocks a 26.6% shot at winning the game straight up.
The total is set at 53 points.
Why was the line set at this number?
To put it plainly, Arkansas is definitely the better team at this point in time, and the Razorbacks being favored should have never been in question here.
Now keep in mind that the Gamecocks covered the spread in only one road game last year out of six, which was a 27-point loss to Georgia.
My point is that the Gamecocks have not traveled well dating back to last season, and that will be what is true until proven otherwise.
If USC were playing at Williams-Brice Stadium, I believe the spread would have been closer to three points, and I would have even felt good about the Gamecocks’ chances, but they are not and the harsh truth is that Arkansas has every reason to win this week.
A nine-point spread sounds just about right.
Arkansas also loves to run, and they are playing a team that gave up 200 rushing yards to Georgia State. They also have one of the most electric quarterbacks in the nation.
The number reflects the talent and the situations both teams are dealing with, and I truly believe those conditions warrant a touchdown despite the Gamecocks winning the last three against the Razorbacks.
What will have to happen for the Gamecocks to cover?
What I did not mention yet is the fact that Arkansas has the ability to get shredded through the air, and if the o-line can protect him, Rattler has the ability to throw for 300+ yards and three touchdowns.
That is a big *if*, though.
If protection was dreadful last week, how will it fare against a defense that sacked Cincinnati quarterback Ben Bryant three times?
For the Cocks to cover, they need to keep the game close defensively, and I will not rule out that possibility.
As I’ve said in the past, they weirdly dominate dual-threat quarterbacks, who KJ Jefferson definitely is after having 18 rushing attempts last week. Jefferson isn’t one to make bone-headed mistakes, though, so this trend could very well take a one-game hiatus.
Arkansas also has the ability to open the floodgates a bit offensively, and I expect to see one or the other occur on Saturday.
So, my keys to covering are pass protection, Rattler doing what he has the ability to do and making life rough for Jefferson.
What’s the better bet?
The Gamecocks haven’t beaten an SEC team not named Vanderbilt on the road since... the infamous Georgia game in 2019. Two and a half years.
I have a feeling that if the Cocks lose, it won’t be close.
Considering I don’t believe South Carolina is going to exit Fayetteville victorious, I’ll take Arkansas by somewhere between 17 and 27 points.
Please prove me wrong, Gamecocks!