After nearly a decade apart, the South Carolina Gamecocks and no. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide will become reacquainted with one another this weekend in the SEC opener for both teams. Kickoff is set for 3:30 EST on Saturday, September 14 at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, South Carolina. The game will be broadcast nationally on CBS.
According to this week’s College football odds, the Crimson Tide is a 25.5-point favorite on the road. The over/under for the game is set at 60 points.
Still upset about losing last year’s national championship game, Alabama has taken out their frustration on their early-season opponents. Despite a competitive first half against Duke in their season opener, the Crimson Tide rolled 42-3 over the Blue Devils. Last week, things got ugly when Alabama played New Mexico State, winning a 62-10 blowout.
It was business as usual for the Crimson Tide in the first two weeks. But now SEC play is here and the pressure is on Alabama to remain sharp while the competition level kicks up a notch or two. The Crimson Tide will also play a road game for the first time this season after opening up against Duke on a neutral field.
As for South Carolina, it’s been a rather uneven start to the season for Will Muschamp and company. The Gamecocks blew a fourth-quarter lead against border-rival North Carolina in their season opener, losing 24-20. To add injury to insult, starting quarterback Jake Bentley suffered a foot injury in that game that required season-ending surgery, forcing South Carolina to turn to freshman Ryan Hilinski at quarterback.
The good news is that Hilinski’s first career start couldn’t have gone any better. The Gamecocks dismantled FCS opponents Charleston Southern 72-10 last week. Of course, the injury to Bentley changes the outlook for South Carolina, who have five ranked teams left on their schedule, starting this week.
As mentioned, it’s been nearly a decade since Alabama played South Carolina. The two schools last met in 2010 when the Gamecocks pulled off an upset of the Crimson Tide in what turned out to be a down year for Alabama. Obviously, Nick Saban and company are hoping that this trip to Columbia has a different result.
To be honest, we don’t know that much about Alabama. Playing New Mexico State last week was kind of a joke and Duke isn’t good enough to tell us too much about the Crimson Tide either. However, this is Alabama, and until proven otherwise, we have to assume that they’re head and shoulders above just about every team they face. This is a lot of points to eat for a road favorite, but I’ll put my faith in the Crimson Tide to cover.
The one thing we did learn about Alabama from their season opener is that they can shake off a sluggish start and still put points on the board. They were held scoreless in the first quarter against Duke but eventually found a rhythm on offense and scored 42 points over the final three quarters. Quarterback Tua Tagavailoa has no problem pushing the ball downfield, and there’s no doubt that he has the receivers to do it. Plus, there doesn’t seem to be anything different with the Alabama rushing attack this season except the personnel. The Tide has six rushing touchdowns from six different players through two games, so the Alabama offense remains well-balanced.
For South Carolina, it’s impossible not to be a little concerned about a freshman quarterback making his second career start against a team like Alabama. For what it’s worth, Hilinski was a big-time prospect coming out of high school, so it’s not as if he doesn’t belong on the same field as the Alabama defense. But there’s a world of difference between facing Charleston Southern and facing Alabama. Until the game starts, it’s impossible to know how prepared Hilinski to face the Crimson Tide. He could surprise everyone, but things could also get ugly.
On top of that, the South Carolina offense struggled in the season opener against North Carolina, managing just 270 total yards. Part of the blame falls on the defense, which struggled to get stops, causing the Gamecocks to lose the time of possession battle. Obviously, that doesn’t bode well for South Carolina either. But it’s also worth questioning whether the Gamecocks have the skill players to create big plays against an Alabama defense that’s yielded little in their first two games.
South Carolina’s best hope in this game is for their defense to keep the game close. For much of their opener against North Carolina, the Gamecocks were able to bend but not break. However, they eventually broke in the fourth quarter and had trouble stopping the run for most of the game. Against Alabama, it’s likely that the South Carolina defense will break a lot sooner than they did against North Carolina.
Ultimately, it’s hard to feel optimistic about South Carolina’s chances in this game. Being at home gives them a chance to keep things competitive. But the Gamecocks will need to be close to perfect in this game, especially with a young quarterback. I’ll look for Alabama to seize control of the game in the second half and cover the 25.5-point spread.