Saturday night features a battle of the Carolinas, as the North Carolina Tar Heels and South Carolina Gamecocks square off in Charlotte.
One of the more anticipated games of the opening weekend pits North Carolina’s high-flying offense and Heisman contender Drake Maye against a South Carolina side that hopes Spencer Rattler’s play down the stretch last season wasn’t simply an aberration.
Ranked 21st in the nation, the Tar Heels are hoping to make a run at the ACC title and fix some of the issues that caused them to collapse down the stretch a season ago. On the other side, South Carolina is looking to pull off a small upset and build on what was a strong finish to last season for the Gamecocks.
Find out what we think is your best path to cash in our North Carolina vs. South Carolina college football picks and predictions for Saturday, September 2.
North Carolina vs South Carolina best odds
North Carolina vs South Carolina picks and predictions
What did Stetson Bennett have in common last season with KJ Jefferson, Brady Cook, Anthony Richardson, and Tyler Buchner? If you guessed that they all led their teams to wins against South Carolina, you’d be correct.
However, if you answered that all five of those quarterbacks scored rushing touchdowns against the Gamecocks, well … er… you’d also be correct. Each of them found the end zone on the ground, with Buchner doing so twice in their bowl game victory.
That’s not surprising though, not when you consider just how bad South Carolina’s run defense was in 2022. Only 13 teams in FBS gave up more than the 5.1 yards per carry gained by their opponents a season ago, and that number got worse as the season went along and competition got tougher.
South Carolina also ranked 52nd in red zone defense, and ranked 105th in offensive touchdowns allowed with nearly four per contest. And how did that defense improve this offseason? Quite frankly, it didn’t. If anything, it’s likely taken a hit. Multiple starters are gone, with only one returning defensive lineman.
And that’s why we’re going to bank on this trend continuing and take Drake Maye to find the endzone with his legs — not just his arm — on Saturday against South Carolina.
The UNC quarterback is an early Heisman contender, whom many consider the second-best quarterback prospect in the upcoming draft. But there might need to be some tempering of expectations regarding his passing numbers.
First of all, he’s got a stable of running backs around him that are likely going to get a few more carries this season. That’s a good thing early in the season because Maye’s other concern is the talent at wide receiver. Josh Downs is now in the NFL, and the status of Devontez Walker is still in the air with many Tar Heel fans hoping the NCAA will declare him eligible on Friday just in time for the game.
Either way, we’re likely to see more of the ground game from the Tar Heels. New offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey likes to run the ball from the spread, and knows setting up the play-action game could work wonders for Maye. The North Carolina coaching staff has hinted all summer that the run game is a focus, after it struggled last year.
But even when Maye drops back to throw, South Carolina will need to be fearful of the ground game. That’s because Maye’s 561 rushing yards from scrambles last season were the second-most of any quarterback in the nation.
Maye found the endzone with his legs seven times last season, scoring in six different games. That includes in four of his final six games, in which teams began blitzing at a much higher rate. If South Carolina has any hope of putting pressure on Maye, it’ll need to come via that route, as their pass rush is quite poor.
That’ll open up a few more lanes for him to take off, enabling Maye to do exactly what every other quarterback that beat them a season ago managed to do. Bank on him to scamper into the endzone at some point and cash our best bet.
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My best bet: Drake Maye Over 0.5 rushing touchdowns (+115 at DraftKings)
North Carolina vs South Carolina same-game parlay
North Carolina is going to win this game, but it could be a close one. That’s why I’ll stay away from the spread and simply plug the money line into our same-game parlay over at FanDuel. The Tar Heels are the better team and have fewer question marks on offense, not to mention does anybody really trust Spencer Rattler to outduel Maye?
In addition, we’re going to take Omarion Hampton to find the endzone as well. North Carolina’s emphasis on establishing the run will be fruitful against South Carolina and the aforementioned awful run defense. Hampton scored six touchdowns a season ago, and at 6’0” and 220 pounds he’s not an easy man to take down. He’ll score to cash off our parlay at better than +400.
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North Carolina vs South Carolina spread and Over/Under analysis
The Tar Heels are favored by 2.5 points on a neutral field on Saturday, down slightly from the 3.0 points they were laying last week at a few places. Meanwhile, the Gamecocks are a trendy upset pick, and are paying as high as +120 to win outright.
Many are pointing to the improved play of Rattler down the stretch last season, and the struggles North Carolina had to end theirs. But I’ll take UNC to win outright. Rattler may have looked good at the end of the season, but his decision-making has to show improvement as well.
He threw three interceptions in the final two games against Clemson and Notre Dame, and took seven sacks in the process. In a close game, where you can’t rely on your defense to get stops, that could be the difference between winning and losing.
As for the total, this one’s a bit tricky for me because of the new rules and the emphasis on establishing the run for North Carolina. Those who got in early on the total got a better number for the Over at 63.5, as it’s gone up a full point since then.
A game like this will be a good marker as to just how the new clock stoppage rules will impact an up-tempo attack like North Carolina’s. While it could cost them only 8-10 plays, that’s an entire drive for a team like theirs. Throw in the fact that they’re likely going to run the ball a bit more, and you’re down even more plays.
I get that neither of these teams can rely on their defenses, and both quarterbacks are capable of having monster days. But considering a combined 16 of their 26 games last season failed to reach this number — including each of the last four for North Carolina — and that the Under hit eight times in UNC’s last 12 games, I’m staying away and hoping to get a lower number live.
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North Carolina vs South Carolina betting trend to know
The Under is 8-4 in North Carolina’s last 12 games. Find more college football betting trends for North Carolina vs South Carolina.
North Carolina vs South Carolina game info
|Location:||Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC|
|Date:||Saturday, September 2, 2023|
|Kickoff:||7:30 p.m. ET|
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