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So. Miss at South Carolina

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Thursday, September 2
Southern Mississippi (0-0) at South Carolina (0-0)

7:30 PM, ESPN
Williams-Brice Stadium (grass) Line: South Carolina -13.5 O/U 46

To steal a line from the great wordsmith Yogi Berra, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”

No, your eyes do not deceive you. For the third straight year South Carolina will open the college football season on a Thursday night in front of a national television audience on ESPN. The only thing that has changed is the opponent - the past two seasons the Gamecocks faced NC State and this season they welcome the Golden Eagles of Southern Miss to Williams-Brice Stadium.

After last year’s “thrilling” 7-3 victory over the Wolfpack, I’m kind of surprised Spurrier’s boys got invited back to kick off the season but I guess all that money Under Armour spends on ESPN gets them some extra benefits.

Seriously though, with nine starters back, including QB Stephen Garcia, South Carolina should be improved on offense. That said, word out of Columbia is that stud TE Weslye Saunders will miss this game due to a suspension. Spurrier has been mum on the exact details of Saunders' suspension but it’s clear the NFL prospect is in his doghouse and maybe the NCAA’s. While Garcia will miss the skills of Saunders, he has a pair of very talented wideouts in sophomores Alshon Jeffery and Tori Gurley who should give him plenty of opportunities to throw down the field.

Not that the entire South Carolina attack will be vertical. The Gamecocks can run the ball and will definitely give Southern Miss a taste of the “WildCock” formation where the ultra-talented and athletic sophomore CB Stephon Gilmore takes direct snaps. Also, keep an eye on true freshman RB Marcus Lattimore, who is expected to pay big dividends this season.

But before we get too far ahead of ourselves and start gushing about the potential of the SC offense, let’s remember who the opponent is in this game. For those lacking in the history department, it’s important to note that Southern Miss is one of the more decorated programs in college football over the past 15 years or so. The Golden Eagles have 16 straight winning seasons, a streak that only Florida State (33 yrs), Florida (22yrs), and Virginia Tech (17yrs) can best. That’s pretty good company to keep when you are talking college football.

Head coach Larry Fedora, who came to USM a couple years ago after a successful stint as the Offensive Coordinator at Oklahoma State, will look to keep that streak alive in his third season in Hattiesburg. Despite its most famous football alum being QB Bret Favre, the Southern Miss program has been built around a nasty defense. This season should be no different as Fedora will lean on his nine returning starters on defense, including LB Korey Williams, to win ballgames.

On offense, the Golden Eagles only get three starters back but that group includes the talented QB Austin Davis who missed most of last year with a foot injury last season. The junior is back to 100% and ready to add to the 1,200 yards with 10 touchdowns he racked up in just five games last season. Fedora has to be thrilled with the depth he has at QB as backup Martevious Young filled in quite capably in the absence of Davis last season and is a quality insurance policy for 2010.

No matter who is under center for Southern Miss, you can bet they will be looking early and often for WR DeAndre Brown. At 6'6", 230 pounds, the junior wideout is unquestionably one of the more dominating physical presences you will see catching balls on a Saturday or Sunday for that matter and NFL scouts are drooling over his potential. Brown will likely be locked up all night with Gilmore and it will be a great matchup to watch.

Of course, Davis will need time in the pocket in order to throw down the field and with a rebuilt offensive line in front of him, the Southern Miss signal caller could be scrambling quite a bit Thursday night. The play of the USM offensive line against a veteran and talented South Carolina front featuring DT Travian Robertson, Cliff Matthews, Ladi Ajiboye, and Devin Taylor could be the story line that determines this game. If Southern Miss can handle the seven returning starters on South Carolina’s defense, then the Golden Eagles should be able to hang with the home team all night long.

In 2009, Southern Miss was 6-5 ATS with a 3-3 mark on the road, while South Carolina was 7-4 ATS with a 4-2 mark at home.

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