College football’s 2014 season officially gets underway on Thursday, as South Carolina hosts Texas A&M on the new SEC Network. The Gamecocks begin 2014 as a preseason top-10 team and should be one of the favorites to win the East Division. The Aggies are in rebuild mode without quarterback Johnny Manziel, receiver Mike Evans and offensive tackle Jake Matthews. But coach Kevin Sumlin's team features plenty of young talent, including freshmen receivers Speedy Noil and Ricky Seals-Jones. This matchup is also the first game on the new SEC Network.
This will be the first meeting between South Carolina and Texas A&M.
Texas A&M at South Carolina
Kickoff: 6 p.m. ET
TV Channel: SEC Network
Spread: South Carolina -10.5
Three Things to Watch
1. South Carolina’s OL vs. Texas A&M’s Front Seven
South Carolina’s offensive line ranks as one of the best in the SEC and should have their way with Texas A&M’s front seven. The Aggies allowed 236.3 rushing yards per game last season (conference-only contests), and depth along the defensive front is a bigger concern after the departure of end Gavin Stansbury and the dismissal of tackle Isaiah Golden and linebacker Darian Claiborne. True freshman Myles Garrett is not listed as a starter on the first depth chart, but the five-star prospect is slated to play major snaps. Talent isn’t a problem on Texas A&M’s defensive front. However, how quickly can players like Garrett, true freshman Zaycoven Henderson and sophomore Daeshon Hall acclimate to life in the SEC? If the Aggies struggle to stop the run once again, South Carolina’s offensive line and rushing attack – led by All-SEC running back Mike Davis – will have its way up front.
2. Debut of New Quarterbacks
Thursday night’s game is the first for Texas A&M in the post-Johnny Manziel era. The Aggies will certainly miss Manziel, but this offense isn’t hurting for talent at the skill positions and on the offensive line. Sophomore Kenny Hill edged true freshman Kyle Allen for the starting job in the fall and Thursday night’s game is his first opportunity to start. Hill played limited snaps last year and finished with 183 passing yards on 16 completions and 37 rushing yards on seven attempts. On the other sideline, Dylan Thompson is no stranger to the starting lineup, as this will be his fourth start as a Gamecock. Thompson has been a capable fill-in for Connor Shaw over the last two years, but 2014 is his first chance to be the full-time starter. The South Carolina native is 3-0 as a starter and could have a huge debut against Texas A&M’s suspect defense.
3. South Carolina’s rebuilt defense
Texas A&M isn’t the only defense with concerns heading into the opener. South Carolina returns six starters on defense, but the Gamecocks suffered significant losses on the defensive line and in the secondary. Up front, end Jadeveon Clowney and tackle Kelcy Quarles depart, while three true freshman are slated for major snaps in the secondary (Wesley Green, Chris Lammons and Al Harris Jr.). Although the Aggies won’t have Johnny Manziel under center, this offense is still dangerous. New quarterback Kenny Hill has a deep group of receivers, and there’s options at running back with Trey Williams, Tra Carson and Brandon Williams. Coordinator Lorenzo Ward plans on mixing in more three-man fronts to take advantage of the depth at linebacker. Will this unit perform at a high level from the opening snap? Or will it take Ward a few games to find the right mix. Texas A&M should be a good barometer test.
Even with three first-round picks departing, Texas A&M’s offense will be dangerous. South Carolina’s defense has enough new pieces stepping into the lineup to keep this one close, as the Aggies should have success moving the ball. However, can Texas A&M get stops? If the defense continues to struggle, the Gamecocks will have no trouble moving the ball on the ground or through the air. Running back Mike Davis was injured in fall camp, but he is expected to be in the lineup on Thursday. Considering South Carolina’s strong offensive line and Davis leading the way on the ground, the Gamecocks will simply wear down the Aggies and open the year with a key conference victory.