We’re debuting a new feature at SportsTalk, as Will Palaszczuk gives you his final word on Friday before USC and Clemson take the field on Saturday.
First of all, I want to thank you all for the amazing welcome and hospitality over the last month. You all have made my return to the Palmetto State more enjoyable and fun than I could have even imagined. Now that the sappy stuff is out of the way, let’s start with the defending champions.
Clemson (-39.5) vs. Kent State
The biggest question mark in this contest is, how much will Kelly Bryant play, and how will he look? If you parse the words from Dabo Swinney, (since we could not see much if at all of Fall practice) he would make you think that Bryant won the job outright, yet he still wants to see more from the two freshmen. I don’t think there’s any harm into seeing what Hunter Johnson and Zerrick Cooper can bring to the table, as I had Johnson as my player I wanted to see the most out there. I think he will be the one that we see quarterbacking by the end of the season, unless Bryant shows us something we haven’t seen from him before. We’ve talked to people who have seen Bryant play at the high school level and beyond, who say he still has a bit left to conquer in order to stick as the starter. A good showing against Kent State can provide some good momentum going into Auburn. Regardless of how shaky he looks Saturday, I don’t know if Dabo Swinney has a short leash on him for that rematch against the Tigers next week. I’m curious to see whether or not we see a breakout performance from Tee Higgins or Travis Etienne with extended minutes, though Higgins could be blocked after a good camp from Diondre Overton.
The defense could be even better than last year, and while that statement is a bit deceiving, you can’t help but like the options Clemson brings. Despite the fact they let teams back in a lot of games last year, you can’t help but look at the shutout against Ohio State in the College Football Playoff Semifinal as a crowning achievement for this unit. Tre Lamar will have the spotlight on him moving into the middle linebacker position, along with Dorian O’Daniel who has drawn many plaudits from players and coaches alike. Clemson may boast the best defensive line in the conference and maybe the country, with a duo at tackle in Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins that could both be All-Americans by year’s end.
Kent State has been tripping over broken glass over the last couple of years, and it’s hard to believe they will put up much resistance. Swinney believes the Golden Flashes’ secondary is their strength on defense, calling it one of the best units they will see all year. We will find out early whether or not it’s all talk, or whether Kelly Bryant has further to go than we realize. The number on this game is big, but I don’t forsee Clemson having any trouble winning, or covering.
Pick: Clemson 48, Kent State 6
South Carolina (+5) vs. NC State (Game in Charlotte, NC)
The game that stands to be the beginning of USC’s litmus test for the 2017 season could tell us a lot or a little about the Gamecocks chances to move things forward this year. There’s still a heavy debate of how good this NC State team is under Dave Doeren, ranging everywhere from playoff contender to a disappointment that could cost him his job.
I believe the South Carolina offense, and Jake Bentley by extension, are for real. Unless the offensive line has failed to progress like we’ve heard, I see no reason this team cannot average 30-35 points per game in a conference that historically prides itself on defense. The problem this week is that NC State boasts a defensive front four that could be among the best they see all season. The Gamecocks received an infusion of new blood with the addition of Offensive Line Coach Eric Wolford to the staff, and the impact of his influence will determine how much this offense can succeed. Expect a lot of the quick passing game in this one, with USC trying to stretch NC State horizontally. There will be quick screens, jet sweeps, and innovative ways to attempt to get the ball in Deebo Samuel’s hands. Don’t be surprised if Bentley takes a deep shot to Hayden Hurst or Shi Smith early either. Even though, NC State can get ample pressure with four, the Gamecocks need to do everything they can to keep the Wolfpack from blitzing. I’m also very curious how the run game factors in, especially in how each of the running backs gets used if it’s successful.
The Gamecocks will start eight seniors of their 11 on defense, but beyond that the playing experience falls off considerably. Going into camp, Will Muschamp said there needed to be “eight or nine guys” who needed to step up and assume ancillary roles without ever having played significant snaps on Saturday. That’s a tall order for any group to have to assume, and they don’t get an easy test in their opening week. Ryan Finley brings experience at the quarterback position, but he won’t be the sole reason for beating you. The Wolfpack come with a balanced attack of run and pass, with H-Back Jaylen Samuels featured as their game-breaker. NC State sideline reporter Tony Haynes called Samuels “the most unique player in college football”. His combination of size, speed, and good hands make him a tough cover no matter where he is on the field. Expect a combination of Skai Moore, Bryson Allen-Williams and maybe Chris Lammons as players who could be locked on his whereabouts. Much like the uncertainty in the trenches on offense, the Gamecocks defensive line has a lot to prove. USC’s defense was third from the bottom in the SEC in sacks (21) last year, that number needs to rise for them to stay in games and get off the field.
This game has avenues for the Gamecocks to win, and I would not be shocked if they pull this game out. There are just too many known entities on NC State’s side for me to ignore.
Pick: NC State 34, South Carolina 28
Now that I’ve made my picks, it’s time to hear from you the fans. Let me know in the comments below how you feel Clemson and South Carolina will fare this week.