Clemson at South Carolina

Published on Nov. 26 at 2:33 p.m. Eastern

By Brian Edwards

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The Palmetto State has been treated to an outstanding season of college football that’ll be capped Saturday night when South Carolina (9-2 straight up, 5-6 against the spread) and Clemson square off at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia.

As of early Friday night, most betting shops had the Gamecocks installed as four-point favorites with a total of 49 ½. Gamblers can take Clemson (9-2 SU, 7-4 ATS) to win outright for a plus-155 return (risk $100 to win $155).

Steve Spurrier’s team beat every team in the SEC East this year, yet Georgia won the division title thanks to its 19-10 win over Kentucky last week. USC lost to Auburn and Arkansas in league play, while UGA didn’t have to play Alabama, LSU or Arkansas. The Bulldogs’ lone SEC loss came against the Gamecocks in Athens back in Week 2.

Nevertheless, South Carolina is still within reach of the first 11-win season in school history. Since dropping a 44-28 decision at Arkansas, the Gamecocks have won back-to-back games, including a 17-12 win over Florida as 3 ½-point home favorites two weeks ago.

The success of this 2011 USC team is even more remarkable considering the fact that three-year starting quarterback Stephen Garcia was dismissed from the team in late October and star running back Marcus Lattimore was lost for the season with an ACL tear in a 14-12 win at Mississippi St. on Oct. 15.

Since Garcia’s departure, sophomore Connor Shaw has taken over under center. He played his best game in last week’s 41-20 win over The Citadel. Shaw completed 16-of-18 passes for 217 yards and three touchdowns, while also rushing for 90 yards and one score on just 11 carries.

For the season, Shaw has connected on 64.9 percent of his throws for 1,008 yards with a 9/6 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He runs a lot of read-option plays and is known more for his ability to run the ball, as evidenced by 376 rushing yards and six TDs.

Without Lattimore, true freshman RB Brandon Wilds has filled in extremely well. Wilds has gained 462 yards on 100 totes with three TDs rushing.

Shaw has the benefit of one of the nation’s best WRs in Alshon Jeffery, who faces double teams on nearly every play. His stats don’t do him justice, but we’ll point them out anyway. Jeffery has 43 receptions for 585 yards and six TDs, including the game winner at crunch time in Starkville.

Clemson was in the hunt for the national title just a month ago, but those dreams were shattered on The Flats in Atlanta where Ga. Tech captured a 31-17 win as a 3 ½-point home underdog.

The Tigers nearly fell victim to another upset bid the following week, but they were able to sneak past Wake Forest 31-28 on Chandler Catanzaro’s 43-yard field goal as time expired. The non-covering victory as 16 ½-point home favorites was bittersweet, however, as star freshman WR Sammy Watkins sustained a shoulder injury.

Watkins’ absence was on full display last week when North Carolina State thumped Clemson by a 37-13 count as a 7 ½-point home underdog. Tajh Boyd was intercepted twice and wasn’t nearly as effective without his favorite target, Watkins, who is ‘probable’ to play Saturday night.

For the season, Boyd has been terrific. He has a 27/10 TD-INT ratio and has thrown for 3,255 yards. Watkins has 70 catches for 1,040 yards and 10 TDs and he’s also a threat to go the distance on any given touch in the return game. This could come into play as USC ranks last in the SEC in kickoff coverage.

Andre Ellington is the Tigers’ workhorse on the ground. Ellington has rushed for 871 yards and nine TDs, averaging 4.8 YPC.

When Boyd drops back to throw, he will have to be wary of three big-time pass rushers for the Gamecocks. Melvin Ingram is fourth in the SEC in sacks with 6.5 and has scored three TDs (two on defense, one on special teams). Also, Devin Taylor and Jadeveon Clowney have combined for nine sacks and Clowney leads the SEC in forced fumbles with five.

Clowney sustained a concussion last week and is listed as ‘questionable,’ but reports out of Columbia indicate that he returned to practice Thursday and will most likely play.

Kickoff is scheduled for 7:45 p.m. Eastern on ESPN.

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

–In the most meaningless FSU-Florida game in decades, these scrub squads will collide Saturday night at The Swamp with a chance to at least give their fans one small sense of satisfaction in a lost season for both schools. Most spots have the Seminoles favored by 2 ½ with a total of 45. ESPN2 will provide the telecast at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. The ‘Noles haven’t won in Gainesville since The Swamp Swindle (Jack Childress was on the take without a doubt!) in 2003. The Gators have won six of the last seven head-to-head meetings.

–Stanford will take on Notre Dame as a seven-point favorite in Palo Alto at 8:00 p.m. Eastern on ABC. The Cardinal has failed to cover the number in back-to-back games after taking the cash in its first nine contests.

–Can Iowa State pull another monster upset this week in Norman? The Las Vegas Hilton has the Cyclones with 32.5/1 odds to beat Oklahoma outright.

–How many Hilliards live in Louisiana, anyway?

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