The SEC is set to return on Saturday with a seven-game, all-conference slate. A longish day of football will conclude with an SEC East matchup between the Tennessee Volunteers and the South Carolina Gamecocks.
This game pits two programs going in different directions against each other. South Carolina is on the heels of a disappointing 4-8 season, in which they missed a bowl game for the first time since 2015. That of course was the final year of the Steve Spurrier Era, which led to Will Muschamp’s eventual hiring in 2016. After his second sub-.500 season, there are plenty of questions coming into this year of what the Gamecocks program is, and Saturday represents a strong early test for them.
Meanwhile, Tennessee is on the up and up. Head coach Jeremy Pruitt has them on the right path in recruiting and on the field. They won the Gator Bowl, their first bowl appearance since 2016, and finished the year 8-5. It was just the third time that the Vols won at least eight games in the 2010s, and was a three-game improvement in the win column from 2018’s 5-7 finish. While they lost some star skill position players and some defensive studs, the Vols still have a dossier of talent at their disposal. And they sure plan to implement it all in the abbreviated 2020 season.
Jarrett Guarantano and Collin Hill figure to be your quarterbacks in this matchup. Guarantano, a veteran under center, returns after a 16-touchdown season last year. Hill, meanwhile, is a Colorado State Rams transfer who played just three games last year and has 23 career touchdowns. Conventional wisdom suggests that you’d lean Guarantano in the QB battle here, especially against a South Carolina defense that last year gave up 235.3 yards per game through the air. And they’re also absent star defensive lineman Javon Kinlaw, who’s now playing on Sundays.
But South Carolina does have a very good secondary led by defensive back Israel Mukuamu. You would likely expect Mukuamu to be covering wideout Josh Palmer for much of the game, so the tides could turn based on that matchup in particular. Also, SC will have to account for transfer Velus Jones, too. Meanwhile, preseason All-SEC Third Team selection Aaron Sterling could provide some havoc on the line. He’ll have a stern test against a damn good offensive line, anchored by All-SEC selection Trey Smith. And there’s five-star freshman Jordan Burch, who won’t be starting in the game, but could creep his way onto the field at times.
On the flipside, it’ll be interesting to see if Hill, or Ryan Hilinski if he sees the field, can keep up with the joneses. SC is absent starpower on offense to say the least. Tavien Fiester and Rico Dowdle are both no longer in Columbia. Neither is Bryan Edwards, who led the team in receptions and yards and receiving touchdowns a season ago. Shi Smith will have to anchor down this season and shoulder the load, and to his credit, he had a solid year in 2019, going for 489 yards on 43 receptions.
But like South Carolina, Tennessee has a standout corner of their own in Third Team All-SEC selection Bryce Thompson. In addition, Tennessee will have Michigan Wolverines transfer Aubrey Solomon up front, as well as linebacker Henry To’oto’o on the second level. Their defense was very good a season ago, as Pruitt’s footprints are being left. There’s no reason to think that won’t be the case again in 2020, so South Carolina will certainly have their work cut out for them.
Spread: Tennessee -3.5 (FanDuel)
Total: 43.5 (FanDuel)
Moneyline: Tennessee -184 | South Carolina +148
This one really depends on who you trust and who you don’t. Guarantano has been solid in his years at Tennessee, but like with most games this weekend, things could be very shaky, and there is dust to wipe off on both sides. I’m not sure where I’d lean here, but 43.5 points is steepish, so the under could be in play.
How to Watch
Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Watch Online: WatchESPN