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If it was up to the media, you would think that South Carolina's entire team was composed of one man for the 2013 football season. Even though that one player is arguably the greatest player in college football (he is. Don't argue because he may tackle you in your sleep, causing instant death), there is, in fact, more to the garnet and black this year. A pretty solid core of returning starters coupled with a favorable schedule could set up South Carolina for a big year this year. Should their season go well to that point, the November 2nd game against MSU in Columbia will be a big game. Let's take a look at the Gamecocks and Bulldogs.
Offensively, South Carolina will again be led by Connor Shaw, who is finally in his senior season in Columbia. Seriously, it feels like he's been there for ten years. Shaw split time due to an injury last year with RS-Jr. Dylan Thompson, who filled in quite nicely. So much so, that it seemed that there may (may? I'm really not sure) have been some QB controversy this off-season. Both quarterbacks are immensely talented, so there's a chance that both could see plenty of snaps this year. It still seems like Shaw is the main guy, but don't be surprised if we see Thompson as well. At wide receiver, the Gamecocks did lose Ace Sanders, who was a big part of last year's success through the air. Back is Bruce Ellington, though, and he will have some talent around him in TE Rory Anderson, WR Damiere Byrd, and WR Shaq Roland. I'm quite interested to see how this unit will work out for the Gamecocks this year, but the talent is certainly there. If they can give solid production to Shaw and Thompson, then this offense could be a strong point this year.
The question to me in South Carolina's offense versus MSU's defense will be where South Carolina's run game is by the time this November game rolls around. Connor Shaw's ability to run is a huge benefit for them, but it's also a liability, as we saw last year that he's injury prone. Then again, that's just an accepted risk for nearly all QBs in option-style offenses. IF Shaw can stay healthy, then they should be strong on the ground, provided that someone can step up to take Lattimore's place. Mike Davis or Brandon Wilds -- it looks like it will be one of these two guys in the backfield with Shaw. If one of the two develops into a solid every-down back, then South Carolina's offense could pose serious problems for State's defensive front seven, which should be good this year. I really think that State's front seven will be better this year especially under Collins, but don't discount Shaw's talent. Like I said, if a running back can step up for South Carolina, the running game could be big for them this year, and in this game as well.
Matchup I'm looking forward to: Connor Shaw vs. MSU Secondary -- State has a lot of question marks in the secondary, and Shaw is as experienced as an SEC quarterback can get. If State can find a way to keep Ellington, Roland, Byrd, and Anderson at bay, then this may be a tight game. If not, and Shaw has his way through the air, this could be a rough, rough start to a brutal three game stretch for MSU.
On the defensive side of things... well, we all know who leads this group. Jadaveon Clowney will impose his will where he wants this year, so the key will be for MSU to try to block him as best as possible. Double teams, triple teams -- I'd even be good with it if they just let ten guys try to block him and Tyler run the other way. Seriously, the offense will have to work in plenty of quick release from Russell and option game away from Clowney's side of the field. I do think there's a chance for MSU to have success against the Carolina defense, even if it is quite talented. The biggest question for this game, and really for MSU's entire season, is how this wide receiver corps can perform. With nearly a full new set of starters, there are many question marks split out wide for the maroon and white. State won't be able to run LaDarius, Josh, Nick, and Derrick 100 times in this game, so Tyler and the wide receivers are going to have to step up for State to have a chance.
Matchup I'm looking forward to: Jadaveon Clowney vs. MSU O-line -- The O-line will be a strength for State this year, but we are talking about the best player in college football. Success for State on offense all starts up front, and State will have to find a way to keep Clowney out of Tyler's face in order for the offense to operate at a level competitive with South Carolina.
Score Prediction: Mississippi State 21, South Carolina 35 -- I think State can keep it closer than many may expect, but in the end, I think the more talented Gamecocks pull it out at home. State, like every year since the beginning of time, needs a big start on the road if they're going to have a chance in this game. If they come out and play flat to open (see: 2011 Auburn, 2012 Alabama, many others), then this game could get very nasty very quick. It'd be great if we didn't see a repeat of what Sakerlina did to Georgia last year at home. Goodness [fans self]