If the rule of thumb for college football bettors is that a good defense will beat a good offense early in the season, then there's little question why South Carolina is a double-digit favorite against North Carolina Thursday. The borderline battle in Columbia pits UNC's high-octane offense against South Carolina's staunch defense.
The line opened with the Gamecocks laying -11 points at most places, with a smattering of 10.5 at some books tracked by Oddsshark.com. Since the start of August, the line has been as low as 10, and as high as 12, both offshore and in Las Vegas. The Gamecocks are currently holding steady at -12 with a consensus total of 57.5 across the board.
The Tar Heels averaged a school-record 40.6 points per game last season, while the Gamecocks allowed just 18.2 points per game, good enough to rank 13th in the nation.
No. 6 South Carolina, which received its highest-ever preseason ranking, is led by reigning Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year Jadeveon Clowney, who recorded 13 sacks, 23.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles last season. Clowney, currently the second betting choice in Heisman Trophy odds, leads a unit that ranked 11th overall in 2012 and returns six starters to this year's squad.
Clowney and company face a legitimate threat against North Carolina's Bryn Renner, who has posted two straight 3,000-yard seasons while connecting with 54 touchdown strikes. Renner, the only player in UNC history to throw for 20 or more touchdowns in multiple seasons, has not thrown an interception in his last 91 attempts.
Last year he had 28 touchdown passes, breaking his own school record of 26 set in 2011. He and sophomore wide receiver Quinshad Davis pose a legitimate problem for the Gamecocks. Davis, who is from Gaffney, S.C., set UNC freshman records with 61 receptions and 776 yards last season. He also set a school record for a freshman with 15 catches for 174 yards in the Tar Heels' 37-13 victory over Virginia.
The Tar Heels have covered four straight Thursday-night appearances, but finished last season failing to cover five of their last six with a suitcase in hand.
South Carolina, on the other hand, rolls into the season on ATS win streaks of 5-1 against Atlantic Coast Conference opponents, 7-2 at home, 5-2 in non-conference play and 7-3 on Thursday nights.