As most Keeping It Heel readers know, the Tar Heels open the football season in Columbia, South Carolina vs. the Gamecocks. The battle of the Carolinas is the first football game of the 2013 season, and with a national broadcast, the nation will get an early glimpse of these two teams. A friend brought it to my attention that the first line on this game has been set at 14.5 points in favor of South Carolina by 5Dimes Sportsbook. While there are tons of sportsbooks, and each one will likely have its own line for the game, let’s look more into what this initial line means.
The largest line I could find from last season against the Tar Heels was in the Louisville game. The Heels were 3.5 point underdogs against the Cardinals. As many of us remember, the Heels lost that game 39-34 . Carolina finished the season 8-4 but only .500 against the spread.
On the other side, South Carolina’s largest advantage according to the oddsmakers was in the Wofford game where their opponent was a 31.5 point underdog. Of course, Wofford is an FCS team in the Southern Conference, and the Terriers actually played respectably before falling 24-7. The Gamecocks were 10-2 last season but only 8-4 against the spread.
So how should this line be viewed? Well there are a few obvious facts. First, the game is being played in South Carolina where Williams-Brice Stadium seats more than 80,000 fans. Second, South Carolina ended the season as the BCS #10 team following a 33-30 win over Michigan in the Outback Bowl.
But perhaps the biggest reason South Carolina is coming in with such lofty expectations is Jadeveon Clowney. The All-Everything defensive end for the Gamecocks had a stellar sophomore season, but he became a national phenomenon following this hit in the bowl game. Clowney is the type of player who opposing coaches have to prepare, and on a national stage, he will be ready to make some noise.
Every team would prefer to be a heavy favorite in any game, but there is something relaxing about being the underdog. If North Carolina loses, they got beat by a national contender in a game which will have little effect on the season. If they win, then it is a huge boost that helps the team not only this year but could have an effect on recruiting.
If South Carolina loses, it creates huge questions, pushes them out of the national championship race, and puts a blemish on their entire season. If they win, no one will be impressed because it was expected.
When more lines open closer to game time, it could give a more accurate feel for the national perceptions of both teams. Expect South Carolina to stay a heavy favorite, but as both coaches are aware, the game is played on the field and not in the sportsbooks.