Let’s get this out of the way: Appalachian State is, at the very least, a pretty good college football team.
And with wins at a premium, this particular team filling a non-conference slot is not great news for Will Muschamp and the South Carolina Gamecocks.
USC is favored by a little more than a field goal — and that’s coming off covering a rather large spread against Vanderbilt — while the Mountaineers dropped a game last week to a two-touchdown underdog.
South Carolina has more raw talent, no doubt. If the Gamecocks defense plays up to the level it can, it should be able to hold back what has been an excellent App State offense.
But if the play on that side isn’t sharp, App State can do some damage with a range of playmakers and a productive, mobile quarterback in Zac Thomas who has some grit to his game.
The other side of the ball for USC is where things are more tricky.
South Carolina’s offense has struggled all season under the weight of injured QBs, an inconsistent line and a shifting identity. This seems to be evolving into a run-first scheme with a two-headed look behind center, but Appalachian State boasts a defense that hasn’t been top-end but is solid.
What hangs in the balance this week is the ability for USC — now 4-5 overall — to avoid a loss that could lead to a 4-8 record in Muschamp’s fourth season (Texas A&M and Clemson are next). A win gives South Carolina two chances to make a bowl and salvage that from the season.
There’s nothing really flashy about all that. The Gamecocks get a good opponent (18-3 the past two years, 48-12 the past five) in a spot where USC needs a win.
The Pick: South Carolina 21, Appalachian State 20