Jadeveon Clowney and Johnny Football are gone, but South Carolina and Texas A&M remain ready to open the 2014 college football season just the same.
“They are probably a little bit like us that they haven’t had a bunch of superstars to talk about this preseason, and their players are anxious to earn their way, just like our guys,” Gamecocks head coach Steve Spurrier said. “Our guys are anxious to show the country we can play ball, and we have a lot of good players also.”
The No. 9 Gamecocks and No. 21 Aggies will meet for the first time in their histories on Thursday at 6 p.m. in Williams-Brice Stadium in the first game of the season for both teams and the first major college football game of the season. The game will serve as the inaugural football broadcast for the new SEC Network.
The fact that Clowney and former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny “Football” Manziel each decided to leave school early following the 2013 season has done little to dampen the enthusiasm for the game in Columbia, where the Gamecocks are the favorites to win the SEC East and are favored by 10.5 points over the Aggies.
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“I think it’s nice to be picked a little bit,” Spurrier said of the expectations surrounding his team. “People think we’ve got a chance to be pretty good, maybe that tells our players, ‘Hey, we got a chance to be pretty good.’ But we also know that we can get beat, just like almost anybody can get beat these days. We have to go coach and play well if we’re going to give ourselves a good chance.”
Senior quarterback Dylan Thompson will make the fourth start of his career but the first as the full-time starter. He is 3-0 in his previous three starts.
“Obviously, Connor Shaw I think we all agree was the best (quarterback) in school history, but we really believe Dylan has an opportunity to really play well this year,” Spurrier said. “He has prepared I think as well as he can possibly do it, and the players have confidence that he can take us a long way.”
South Carolina’s FBS-best, 18-game home winning streak will be going up against an impressive streak by the Aggies, who are 10-2 on the road under Kevin Sumlin.
“Of course, that big win over Alabama (two years ago) was in Tuscaloosa, so they are a good road team,” Spurrier said. “They are not afraid to go in the other guy’s ball park.”
The Gamecocks have not lost at home since Oct. 1, 2011, against Auburn.
“We are certainly glad the game is at our place, at Williams-Brice, where we have had a good run the last two and a half years,” Spurrier said. “Hopefully, we can continue. I know our fans will be fired up and ready to do their part.”
The game will be South Carolina’s 12th Thursday night game under Spurrier, and the eighth time in Spurrier’s 10 seasons that the Gamecocks have opened the season on a Thursday night. They have won the previous seven Thursday night openers, and have won 14 straight season-opening games overall. Spurrier is 23-1 in his career in season-opening games.
“We have been fortunate in the openers,” he said. “Haven’t always played extremely well, but the other team hasn’t played extremely well either. We coach them all the same, try to get the guys prepared the same, the opener, the last one, the bowl game and so forth.”