The South Carolina Gamecocks will look to close out the 2018 regular season with a win when they play host to the Akron Zips. With both teams losing a game to weather earlier this year, they decided to schedule the first-ever meeting between these two schools. Kickoff is set for noon EST on Saturday, December 1, at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, South Carolina. Fans can catch all the action on the SEC Network.
Oddsmakers list the Gamecocks as 28.5-point favorites at home. That line is now slightly after South Carolina opened the week favored by 29 points. The over/under for the game is set at 56 points. Click here to check out a full list of this week’s college football odds, including all of the conference championship games.
The Gamecocks are finishing up what has been a rather unremarkable season. After last year’s 9-4 campaign in Will Muschamp’s second season in Columbia, expectations were somewhat raised at the start of the year. However, with a rash of injuries and a new offensive coordinator in place, the Gamecocks struggled to find consistency. The good news is that they’re finished a solid 4-4 in SEC play and are 6-5 overall, already assuring themselves of a bowl game.
For what it’s worth, all of South Carolina’s losses have come against ranked teams, including four against teams currently in the top-15. A couple of those games could have easily gone the other way. However, the Gamecocks weren’t quite able to match up against high-level opponents. On the bright side, the Gamecocks have beaten all the teams you’d expect them to beat.
Akron, on the other hand, won’t be going to a bowl game this year. The Zips won the MAC East division last year but have taken a step back under Terry Bowden. In the seven years since Bowden took the reins in Akron, he’s only taken the zips to a bowl game twice.
At the end of October, Akron appeared to be in good shape. They were 4-3 and even had a win over Northwestern on their resume. However, the Zips have now lost four in a row to drop to 4-7 overall and 2-6 in MAC play. Akron will now have to treat a trip to South Carolina like a de facto bowl game because they won’t be going to a real one this year.
This is a tough game to pick. Obviously, South Carolina is the better team by a wide margin. But are the Gamecocks going to get up for an early game against Akron that doesn’t mean anything? The Zips, meanwhile, will be eager to prove themselves against an SEC team. That being said, I think the safer option is to swallow the points and lean toward South Carolina to cover.
The tipping point for me is how bad Akron has been on offense this year. Sophomore quarterback Kato Nelson has nearly a season and a half of starting experience under his belt. However, he’s still not progressing much as a passer. He’s done a fine job of limiting his interceptions. But other than that, his accuracy isn’t where it needs to be. Even though he’s had some of his best games late in the season, I don’t trust him to be consistent from one game to the next.
It doesn’t help that Akron is one of the worst running teams in the country. Even with Nelson being a viable running threat at the quarterback position, the Zips are averaging less than 100 yards rushing per game. They are also gaining a pitiful three yards per carry on the ground. When you can’t run the ball and your quarterback is only completing 52% of his passes on the season, sustaining drives will be difficult, especially against an SEC defense.
To be fair, South Carolina’s defense is in the bottom half of the SEC. But Muschamp knows what he’s doing on that side of the ball. Also, the Gamecocks are undoubtedly talented, even if they’re inexperienced in some spots. Given Akron’s limitations on offense, the South Carolina defense should have a good game. I can see the Zips being held to 10 points or less, which will make it a little easier for the Gamecocks to cover.
Obviously, the South Carolina offense will have to do some damage in order to win by 30-plus points and cover the spread. But I like how quarterback Jake Bentley is playing late in the year. Just last week, he had over 500 yards passing and five touchdowns against Clemson, albeit in a losing effort. He’s definitely been more consistent during the second half of the season. Against an Akron defense that hasn’t faced an offense with SEC-caliber athletes this year, I think Bentley and the Gamecocks can score early and often.
In the end, I’m putting my faith in South Carolina actually wanting to play this game. But a team that’s only 6-5 shouldn’t be taking anything for granted. I think the South Carolina defense will come close to pitching a shutout, which should make it reasonable for the Gamecocks to score enough points to cover the spread.