While the 2014 college football season officially begins on Wednesday with one game, the new season really gets underway on Thursday, as 28 teams take the field for the first time. The biggest among those games will feature No.21 Texas A&M and No.9 South Carolina, as the two teams begin the year with an SEC matchup at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, South Carolina.
It may only be the first of 12 regular-season games, but the matchup is a big one for both teams. The Gamecocks are one of the favorites to reach the 2014 SEC Championship Game, and the Aggies may not be able to afford a loss this early in the season if they hope to compete with Alabama and Auburn in the West Division.
For the first time in two years, the Aggies appear to be without a star quarterback. Johnny Manziel was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the NFL Draft, and Kenny Hill has been named as his replacement. Head coach Kevin Sumlin chose Hill over true freshman Kyle Allen, who comes in as one of the top recruits in the country.
"I thought both guys really competed in a great way," Sumlin said. "We put a lot more emphasis on situational football in this camp and put guys in some situations to see how they'd perform and see what their learning curve is and not just playing 7-on-7. There's not really one deciding factor; I think it's a body of work and a feel that you have through practice and with your team."
Hill is more experienced than Allen, having spent a year with the team. He didn’t play much in 2013, but did make the most of his limited opportunities. Last year, Hill attempted 22 passes, completing 16 of them for 183 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.
Taking over for Manziel, Hill has big shoes to fill. Last year, Texas A&M ranked fifth in the nation, scoring 44.2 points per game. Hill won’t be able to target wide receiver Mike Evans, who was was also taken in the first round of the draft. The Aggies do have three offensive lineman that were named to 2014 Preseason Coaches All-SEC Football Teams, but no playmakers that could made the cut.
While Texas A&M is missing its top offensive weapons from last year, South Carolina could be without its star running back against the Aggies. Head coach Steve Spurrier told the Sportstalk radio network that Mike Davis is questionable for the season opener. A rib injury has kept him out of practice this week.
Davis has told The State that his injury isn’t serious, and tweeted that he doesn’t expect to miss the contest. Losing the running back would hurt a South Carolina offense that relied on Davis’s 1,183 rushing yards a year ago. He’s one of the few players at his position that could find himself in contention to win the 2014 Heisman Trophy. Brandon Wilds would likely get the start for Davis, if he can’t suit up.
Six days away from the contest, South Carolina is a heavy favorite at home. According to multiple sportsbooks in Las Vegas, the betting odds have Texas A&M listed as a 10.5-point underdog, with the over/under coming in at 57 points. Last season, the Gamecocks went undefeated at home.
Prediction: South Carolina 37, Texas A&M 23