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South Carolina Gamecocks vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs Preview and Prediction

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Here we have two programs trending in opposite directions after week one. South Carolina can currently say that it leads the SEC East standings with a 1-0 conference record after beating Vanderbilt on the road last week. A lot of people picked Vandy to win that game. It was a big win for Will Muschamp in his first game as head coach of the Gamecocks. Any road win in the SEC is a big win, and South Carolina will have an opportunity to do the same thing this week.

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Mississippi State, on the other hand, was upended at home by the South Alabama Jaguars. Not a great start to the post-Dak Prescott era in Starkville. We knew coming into the year that the Bulldogs had some rebuilding to do, but not many people outside of Mobile, Alabama picked the Jags to win that game. There is plenty of work to be done for Mississippi State.

This matchup will feature two defenses that looked pretty good in the first week of the season. The Gamecocks allowed only 242 total yards to the Commodores, while Mississippi State gave up a respectable 379 (though 285 of those yards came through the air). Both teams should be solid on defense this season. The real struggle for both the Bulldogs and the Gamecocks is on offense.

Mississippi State and South Carolina will meet for the 16th time on Saturday, with the Gamecocks leading the series 9-6. The Gamecocks have won seven in a row, including a 34-16 victory in the last meeting in Columbia back in 2013. Mississippi State’s last win in the series came in 1999, when legendary head coaches Jackie Sherrill and Lou Holtz were on the sideline.

South Carolina at Mississippi State

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 10 at 7 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN2

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Spread: Mississippi State -6.5

Three Things to Watch

1. State’s Quarterbacks vs. Carolina’s Secondary
The Bulldogs started Nick Fitzgerald last week, but replaced him soon thereafter with Damian Williams, who completed 20 of his 28 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown. He had pretty efficient numbers, but he doesn’t have the raw ability that Fitzgerald has. Regardless, there’s a chance both could play on Saturday against the Gamecocks. South Carolina allowed only 73 yards through the air last week. Granted, Vanderbilt isn’t really known for its potent passing attack, but that’s still impressive. It will be interesting to see which team wins this battle, because that team probably will win the game.

2. South Carolina’s Offense
Last week, South Carolina only had 308 yards of total offense. That included 187 passing yards and a measly 121 on the ground. Muschamp’s biggest criticism at Florida was his inability to find an offense that could put up enough points to match his excellent defenses. Yes, it’s only his second game as the Gamecocks’ head coach and he doesn’t have a lot to work with, but 121 yards on the ground isn’t going to cut it in the SEC. What, if anything, can South Carolina do to field a respectable offense? Muschamp needs to find an answer to that question in a hurry — preferably this week against the Bulldogs.

3. The Coaching Battle
This game features two of the most underrated coaches in football. Dan Mullen, on one hand, is one of the game’s best offensive minds and nearly always (last week aside) gets the most out of his players. He’s part of the Urban Meyer coaching tree. Muschamp, on the other hand, is one of the best defensive minds in college football (his lackluster offenses aside) and is used to building a program after a legend steps down. He’s part of the Nick Saban coaching tree. This should be a great coaching battle between two staffs that have a ton of work to do in getting their programs back to the top of the college football landscape.

Final Analysis

This one is pretty much a coin flip. South Carolina already seems to be improved on defense, and Mississippi State still hasn’t found its for-sure answer at quarterback. On the flip side, the Gamecocks don’t have much going on offense and State is playing at home with several key pieces back on defense from a year ago. It really could go either way, especially with two solid head coaches on the sidelines. I’ll stick with the better defensive team. Despite playing on the road, I think Muschamp and South Carolina will find a way to give Mississippi State’s offense fits.

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Prediction: South Carolina 23, Mississippi State 20

— Written by Cody McClure, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a radio host and lead SEC Writer for Three Point Stance Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @CodyMcClureCFB.

(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)