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TEXAS A&M AGGIES (0-0) at SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS (0-0) Odds: South Carolina -11 & 61

The 2014-15 college football season kicks off Thursday night with an early SEC battle between ranked teams as No. 21 Texas A&M and No. 9 South Carolina meet at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Both of these programs finished in the top-25 at the end of last season with the Aggies going 9-4 (4-4 in SEC) while the Gamecocks were 11-2 (6-2 in SEC). Texas A&M lost some big names to the NFL draft following last season as starters QB Johnny Manziel, OT Jake Matthews and WR Mike Evans were all taken among the top-22 players. The loss of those players leaves a hole at some major positions which QB Kenny Hill, son of former major league pitcher Ken Hill, hopes he can help fill.

South Carolina was a dominant program last season with its only two losses coming against conference foes Tennessee and Georgia. The Gamecocks were a tough team that ranked in the top-45 at both rushing and passing, but will feel the losses of DE/OLB Jadeveon Clowney, who was taken as the first overall pick in the draft, and QB Connor Shaw who started for three seasons in Columbia. Still, the Steve Spurrier-coached team is ready with fifth-year senior QB Dylan Thompson and second team All-SEC HB Mike Davis leading the way.

This game is extra exciting with this being the first time in history that these two hard-nosed programs are meeting. The beginning of the season should provide plenty of fireworks as these two teams from the toughest conference in the league see what their new crop of players has in store for them. A couple of betting trends to keep in mind for this contest are that home teams such as South Carolina playing in the first month of the season after finishing the previous year on a win streak of 5+ games to give them an 80% win percentage, are 42-14 (75%) in the past 10 seasons. However, Texas A&M is 4-0 ATS in the previous two seasons when the total is between 56.5 and 63.
The Aggies were great last season in the passing game as they ranked seventh in the nation with 353.3 YPG, which led to 44.2 PPG (5th in FBS). Also, the team was able to gain 185.1 YPG on the ground (45th in nation). Much of their offensive production is in question with the departure of Johnny Manziel, but Kenny Hill hopes he can succeed with his own brand of dual-threat play. In his limited time last season as a freshman, Hill was 16-for-22 with 183 yards (8.3 YPA), 1 TD and 0 INT while also rushing for 37 yards on seven carries.

The players to keep an eye on in this offense will be HBs Trey Williams and Tra Carson who combined for 736 yards on 120 carries (6.1 YPC) with 13 touchdowns last year, and both should have a much bigger role in 2014 with the loss of 2013 leading rusher Manziel. As is the case with many large programs, Texas A&M took losses to its roster in many important areas. With its top two receivers (Mike Evans and Derel Walker) gone, WR Malcome Kennedy, who had 658 yards on 60 catches (11.0 YPC) with 7 TD last year, should get the call as the top option, but electric WR Ricky Seals-Jones (28.0 yards per reception) will also play a big role. DB Howard Matthews is expected to lead a defense that really struggled against the run last season (SEC-worst 222.3 rushing YPG allowed). Matthews had 90 tackles and three interceptions last year for a team that gave up 28+ points in 10 of their 13 games, and wound up with 32.2 PPG allowed.
Last season the Gamecocks brought a balanced offensive attack, which ranked 40th in passing yards (253.8 YPG) and 32nd in rushing (198.5 YPG). This led to 34.1 PPG (32nd in FBS), but it was their stingy defense (20.3 PPG, 12th in nation) that was the key to success. Just like the Aggies, South Carolina lost its starting quarterback, and will be relying on Dylan Thompson under center. It should take him no time at all to feel comfortable since he has been with this team for four years already, and was 52-for-89 (58.4%) for 783 yards (8.8 YPA) with 4 TD and 3 INT last year as Shaw’s primary backup.

The player in the offense to watch is HB Mike Davis who earned praise as one of the top backs in the SEC last year after posting 1,183 rushing yards (5.8 YPC) with 11 touchdowns, and also was an asset in the passing game with 352 receiving yards on 34 catches. He ran for 105+ yards in seven of the team's first nine games last season, but failed to top that mark once in his final three contests played. Although Davis has been bothered by a ribs injury, he is expected to start on Thursday night. South Carolina should feel comfortable with its wideouts, most notably WRs Shaq Roland (455 rec. yards, 5 TD) and Damiere Byrd (575 rec. yards, 4 TD). The loss of Clowney leaves the door open for LB Skai Moore (56 tackles, 4 INT) to lead the defense, as DB Brison Williams (45 tackles, 1 INT) also attempts to help continue a trend of great defenses at South Carolina.

BOISE STATE BRONCOS (0-0) vs. OLE MISS REBELS (0-0) Odds: Ole Miss -10.5, Total: 53.5

No. 18 Ole Miss looks to start its season on a positive note as travels to Atlanta to meet a Boise State team looking to give new coach Bryan Harsin a crucial victory.

The Rebels were a young team last season that relied on a lot of freshmen, but this year, the expectations are much higher as the team brings back a ton of talent. They got off to a fast start in 2013, winning their first three games by 14.3 PPG, including a pair of road contests at Vanderbilt and at Texas. After losing the next three contests, Ole Miss closed out the season on a 4-2 run capped off by a Music City Bowl win over Georgia Tech.

The Rebels will be tested against a Boise State program that saw long-time head coach Chris Petersen (92-13 record). The offensive-minded Harsin will have the Broncos offense revolving around RB Jay Ajayi, who is the fourth highest returning rusher in the country. The Broncos have been very successful in season openers against big-conference teams, defeating programs such as Georgia, Oregon and Virginia Tech in recent years. Bettors should know that favorites of 10.5 to 21 points with 425+ total YPG in the previous season with an experienced starting QB are 29-7 ATS (81%) in the past five seasons, but Boise State is 5-1 ATS as a neutral-field underdog since 1992. There are no significant injuries for either team.

No quarterback in the SEC has as much experience coming back as Ole Miss senior QB Bo Wallace (3,346 passing yards, 18 TD, 10 INT; 355 rush yards, 6 TD). However, for the Rebels to truly contend in the SEC, he will have to become more consistent. In his final three games, Wallace threw five interceptions as the Rebels went 1-2. He is an athletic quarterback, but he has a tendency to go for the big play too often. With a loaded defense and talent around him, Wallace just needs to limit mistakes. Sophomore WR Laquon Treadwell (72 catches, 608 yards, 5 TD) has a chance to become one of the elite receivers in all of the country. With Donte Moncrief graduated, Treadwell will undoubtedly become the focal point of the offense. The passing game should be able to compete with anybody, but the running game still remains a question mark. RB I’Tavius Mathers (563 rush yds, 5.9 YPC, 3 TD) looks to be the guy right now, but the Rebels will also use RB Jaylen Walton (523 rush yds, 4.6 YPC, 6 TD). DT Robert Nkemdiche (34 tackles, 2 sacks), had his big moments as a freshman, but struggled at times with injuries and constant double-teams. However, he has the talent and potential to become a double-digit sack guy, as he possesses amazing speed for a player his size. Ole Miss also returns All-American S Cody Prewitt (6 INT) while S Anthony Alford and hybrid Tony Conner (66 tackles) are two of the best athletes in the conference. The Rebels are coming into this season very optimistic, but they must not take this talented Boise State team lightly.

Leading the way for the Broncos offense will be Ajayi (1,425 rush yds, 5.7 YPC, 18 TD), who is an elusive runner. He is also a big part of the passing game, catching 22 passes out of the backfield for 222 yards last year. Under center will be QB Grant Hedrick (1,825 pass yds, 69% completions, 7.5 YPA, 16 TD, 5 INT), who really came on at the end of the year with 14 TD and 3 INT over his final five games. Hedrick also forces defenses to respect his feet, where he is able to get out and make some plays (277 rush yds, 4.1 YPC, 6 TD). When he gets out of the pocket, he is generally scrambling to allow his receivers more time to get open. The Broncos offense has the makings of an elite group, as receivers Matt Miller (216 career catches, 3rd most among active players) and Shane Williams-Rhodes (77 catches, 702 yards, 6 TD) are a dynamic receiving duo. The defense of the Broncos has a lot of talent, but is also very young. Shutdown CB Donte Deayon (6 INT, 54 tackles) and S Darian Thompson (63 tackles, four interceptions) will need to lead from the back.

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