Both the NC State Wolfpack and the South Carolina Gamecocks are trendy surprise picks in their respected conferences. But first, the two teams will have to play each on neutral soil in Charlotte, North Carolina.
While NC State finished the year 7-6 in 2016, Dave Doeren's team did end the season on a high note. The Wolfpack were able to defeat in-state rival North Carolina 28-21 to become bowl eligible. Then in the Independence Bowl down in Shreveport, Louisiana, NC State dominated Vanderbilt 41-17.
Will Muschamp’s first season at South Carolina was a bit of a success. After being picked near the bottom of the SEC, the Gamecocks ended the year 6-7, finishing things with a close 46-39 loss in overtime to South Florida in the Birmingham Bowl.
There aren’t many times when the SEC plays the ACC in a neutral-site game, but this is one of two games pitting the conferences against each other in that setting (Florida State vs. Alabama in Atlanta).
NC State vs. South Carolina (Charlotte, N.C.)
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 2, at 3 p.m. ET
Spread: NC State -5
Three Things to Watch
1. Jaylen Samuels
Samuels is arguably not only NC State’s best player but their most valuable as well. During his time with the Wolfpack, Samuels has lined up as a receiver, tight end, halfback and fullback, and probably has been used in some other fashion.
Last season, Samuels led the team with 55 receptions and seven touchdown catches, and was second with 565 receiving yards. He also ran for 189 yards on 33 carries (5.7 ypc) and six touchdowns. With running back Matt Dayes gone, Samuels could be even more involved in the offense this year compared to 2016.
2. South Carolina’s offense
Last year, the Gamecocks finished the season ranked 120th in FBS in total offense as they gained an average of 327.5 yards per game. This offense should be a lot better in 2017 with 10 starters returning, including quarterback Jake Bentley.
In seven games last season, Bentley threw for 1,420 yards with nine touchdowns and four interceptions. With running back Rico Dowdle and wide receiver Debo Samuel also returning, the Gamecocks should be able to move the ball more effectively and put more points on the scoreboard than they did a year ago.
3. NC State front four
Not many people outside of the ACC know this, but the Wolfpack have one of the best defensive lines in the nation. NC State’s front four is led by All-ACC performer Bradley Chubb.
Last year, Chubb collected 62 tackles, 11.5 tackles for a loss and 5.5 sacks. NC State also features Justin Jones and B.J. Hill, who are also very talented players. As one anonymous ACC assistant coach shared with Athlon Sports, “Defensively, there might not be a better front four out there in the league aside from Clemson.” That coach could be correct.
Both NC State and South Carolina should have better records this season. But when it comes to the team with the better roster, it is the Wolfpack.
Not only does NC State have an experienced quarterback in Ryan Finley, but there’s a solid supporting cast around him. The Wolfpack also return eight starters on defense, including one of the best defensive lines in the nation.
South Carolina’s defense will keep the Gamecocks close, but NC State should pull away late in the fourth quarter.
Prediction: NC State 28, South Carolina 17
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.