Pregame Pep Talk: X-Factors, Saturday selections, and my Clemson-South Carolina pick

Roderick McDowell

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@postandcourier.com
@Aaron_Brenner | Tiger Tracks on Facebook

COLUMBIA – If you’ve been sticking with the Tiger Tracks blog this week, you’ve noticed a few extra items added back into the fray.

Hey, it’s rivalry week. Gotta treat it like it’s special. So let’s get back to one of my favorite (yet time-consuming) blog posts we can do here: the Pregame Pep Talk.

I’ll list five important players when Clemson has the ball, and five important players when South Carolina has the ball. It’s not necessarily the biggest names; just the guys whose performance (good or bad) will most impact the end result. In addition, I’ll point out a few notable players in other games who will play a pivotal role in big matchups.

Then, I’ll break down some other marquee games of the weekend, with short analysis and a prediction, plus a rundown of other scoring predictions. I like picking things.

Speaking of which … my Clemson-South Carolina pick takes us home.

Names to Know: Five X-Factors when the Tigers have the ball

#25 Roderick McDowell, 5-10, 200, sr., RB, Clemson. A tad incredibly, McDowell’s got two games remaining to complete a 1,000-yard rushing campaign. Consistently running the football, plus having the night of his life in pass protection, makes McDowell absolutely critical to the Tigers’ offensive success.

#1 Martavis Bryant, 6-5, 200, jr., WR, Clemson. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like there’s been barely a whisper about Bryant’s impact on this football game. He’s got 332 receiving yards in three games this month. You know Tajh Boyd will chuck it long to Bryant at least 3-4 times. Question is how many of them fall in Bryant’s suddenly-sticky mitts.

#79 Isaiah Battle, 6-7, 275, fr., RT, Clemson. The Brandon Thomas-Jadeveon Clowney matchup is nice to talk about, but Clowney’s certainly going to move around the line and pick on the redshirt freshman. Plus, it’s not like Chaz Sutton’s easy to deal with. We’ll see if Battle’s size gives him an advantage – or at least makes it a fair fight – against the 6-6 Clowney and 6-5 Sutton.

#99 Kelcy Quarles, 6-4, 298, jr., DT, South Carolina. Seven sacks on the year. Nobody else on the team has more than two. Not even that Clowney fella.

#15 Jimmy Legree, 6-0, 187, sr., CB, South Carolina. Fairly significant size difference between the Clemson receivers and Carolina corners, so they’ll have to play physical on the line of scrimmage much like Florida State did. Legree and Vic Hampton have their hands full with Bryant and Sammy Watkins.

Names to Know: Five X-Factors when the Gamecocks have the ball

#28 Mike Davis, 5-9, 215, so., RB, South Carolina. The SEC’s leading rusher in yards per game (1,112 in 10 games played), Davis has shredded some pretty good rushing defenses. He went for 16 carries and 149 yards with a touchdown at Georgia, and went beast mode with 26 carries, 167 yards and three touchdowns at UCF. Both those defenses are top-30 nationally. For all the improvement Clemson’s made, its rush defense is No. 55. James Davis’ little brother scored a touchdown in each of his first seven games, but is dry since Oct. 19 at Tennessee.

#4 Shaq Roland, 6-1, 190, so., WR, South Carolina. Bruce Ellington returns to this game; his speed, and Ace Sanders’ electricity, mesmerized the Clemson secondary last year. It’ll be on Roland and Damiere Byrd to make plays in the second level this year. Roland was out three games early this year, but is starting to find his rhythm with over 50 receiving yards in two of his past three games.

#3 Vic Beasley, 6-2, 235, jr., DE, Clemson. You’d think this is too obvious a name. It’s not. Vic Beasley has two sacks in his last six games, and four of those were not against the flexbone. Time to reassert yourself, big dude.

#33 Spencer Shuey, 6-3, 240, jr., LB, Clemson. The most unsung hero on this defense, and Shuey likes it that way. Feels like if he brings his A-game, Mike Davis will get his without going off. If Shuey (and Stephone Anthony) aren’t in the right spots, or if the Clemson D-Line gets totally abused, Davis could have a field day.

#20 Jayron Kearse, 6-4, 205, fr., FS, Clemson. The storyline this week has been Kearse’s penchant for gambling; he’s as much a risk to give up the big play as he is to make a big play on defense. Solid chance the coaches have drilled the words “do your job” in the lanky safety’s head all week as he preps for his second career start.

Names to Know: Three players you should watch since I can’t be at every game

#21 Tre Mason, 5-10, 205, jr., RB, Auburn. Auburn didn’t give this guy the ball last year and lost nine games. It gave him the ball this year (1,153 yards, 17 TDs) and Auburn has ten wins (and counting.)

#5 Braxton Miller, 6-2, 215, jr., QB, Ohio State. Here’s the list of six quarterbacks with a QB rating of more than 165 in conference games only: Jameis Winston, Bryce Petty, Tajh Boyd, Johnny Manziel, Marcus Mariota, Braxton Miller. Two have an undefeated season going; one is under roaring off-field fire for a sexual assault investigation. If we’re going to dismiss Winston for his legal concerns, and other players like Petty, Manziel, and Mariota for losing recently, what’s wrong with Braxton Miller as a Heisman candidate? Did we all decide Ohio State’s season doesn’t matter or something? (And by the way, you ask about Boyd’s candidacy? Win the game Saturday and the discussion is open.)

#14 Hutson Mason, 6-3, 202, jr., QB, Georgia. This one’s more for you than the rest of the country. With Aaron Murray’s star-crossed career ending with an ACL tear, here’s your first look at Georgia’s starting quarterback for Opening Day 2014 … when Clemson makes the trip to Athens. Interesting to see how he does against the Ramblin’ Wreck.

Saturday’s showdowns

No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes at Michigan Wolverines ~ 12 p.m., ABC

The next time Ohio State fails to score 30 will be its first this year. It beat Northwestern and Iowa by 10 points each in back-to-back weeks, and that’s the closest anybody’s come. Michigan doesn’t have the juice to squeeze the Buckeyes, not with OSU getting two last chance to bedazzle voters.

Brenner picks: Buckeyes 48, Wolverines 17                         

No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide at No. 4 Auburn Tigers ~ 3:30 p.m., CBS

Make some time Saturday afternoon to watch what promises to be an entertaining Iron Bowl. The Tigers won’t let Bama off easily in their own building; much as everything throughout the year at Clemson and USC is geared toward beating the other team, one of the team rooms in Auburn has huge orange letters spelling out “BEAT BAMA” across the back wall. However, the Tigers’ revival has overshadowed only marginal improvement on defense, and AJ McCarron and TJ Yeldon and Amari Cooper and friends are far too talented to hold down for 60 minutes. Sure, the Auburn offense could beat the vaunted Alabama defense on some big plays, but they’d almost be more suited to hold onto the ball for longer drives. Not a great matchup for the home team.

Brenner picks: Crimson Tide 38, Tigers 23

No. 21 Texas A&M Aggies at No. 5 Missouri Tigers ~ 7:45 p.m., ESPN

Johnny Football’s last stand? He’ll have to stay away from Michael Sam, the Tigers’ breakout defensive end. Texas A&M was one of those teams that in July, lest we forget, was in so much turmoil that getting to 10 wins even with a simplistic schedule seemed a stretch.

Brenner picks: Tigers 24, Aggies 21

No. 22 UCLA Bruins at No. 23 USC Trojans ~ 8 p.m., ABC

Not exactly sure why ABC was so enamored with this one. Ummm … who wants the Sun Bowl?

Brenner picks: Bruins 26, Trojans 24

The Rundown

@Nebraska 21, Iowa 17. Lots of big fellas burning off Turkey Day calories in this one. Actually, the winner of this game (Nebraska is 8-3, Iowa 7-4) completes a surprisingly nice campaign.

@No. 17 LSU 31, Arkansas 3. So, Bret, how was your first run through the SEC?

@No. 13 Oregon 38, Oregon State 30. Oregon only agreed to play in the Civil War because it wasn’t the stupid ol’ Rose Bowl. Because who wants to play in that thing.

@No. 19 UCF 35, South Florida 17. A really fine year for the Knights. One wonders if Fresno State or Northern Illinois had to host a 9-win SEC team if they’d still be undefeated. Rankings are dumb sometimes.

@Michigan State 24, Minnesota 10. Sparty plays defense. Great year for the Gophers, though.

No. 2 Florida State 45, @Florida 3. Will we hear boos in the Swamp? Probably not. Empty bleachers don’t usually make too much ruckus.

No. 24 Duke 31, North Carolina 29. Closer than you think. Duke’s still gonna have to prove itself on the road, even if the road is seven miles away.

@Vanderbilt 28, Wake Forest 6. Sad face for the ACC fandom.

Maryland 27, @North Carolina State 14. Your former boss at Wisconsin had a worse year, but not by much, Dave Doeren.

@No. 15 Wisconsin 41, Penn State 17. Oh, speaking of the Badgers … leader in the clubhouse for Clemson’s opponent in the Orange Bowl, if it all shakes out reasonably. Very well-rounded club.

Georgia 27, @Georgia Tech 24. Impossible game to peg. Georgia Tech’s a nice team, not much to write home about. Georgia has had one of the longest, strangest journey from top-five status to out of the rankings to back again and then out once more.

Boston College 35, @Syracuse 17. You can have your Jimbo Fisher and Dabo Swinney. Steve Addazio is my ACC Atlantic Coach of the Year. How in the heck did THIS TEAM win seven, maybe eight games? Andre Williams is gonna give some team nightmares for a month leading up to some bowl game.

@No. 25 Notre Dame 21, No. 8 Stanford 18. “Could the defending national runner-up please access the white courtesy telephone. Defending national runner-up, please show yourself.”

@No. 12 Arizona State 31, Arizona 28. Sneaky good rivalry, no? What a wacky Pac-12 year. Arizona goes and loses to Wazzu, then beats Oregon. You figure it out.

                                                             GAME OF THE WEEK

No. 6 Clemson at No. 10 South Carolina ~ 7 p.m., ESPN2

Wait, you know what? We’re 1,700 words deep into this bad boy, and I wanna say a few things about this game. Let’s stick this in a separate post. Stay with me.

Click here for the Clemson-South Carolina pick …

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