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August 19, 2013
Save for fifth-year senior Chaz Sutton, very few current South Carolina players had been born when the Gamecocks last hosted North Carolina at Williams-Brice Stadium on Sept. 8, 1990.
However, that doesn't mean the anticipation level is anything less, especially since the contest is the traditional Thursday night season lidlifter on ESPN, meaning millions of college football fans around the country will be watching when the game kicks off at 6 p.m. on Aug. 29.
"I can't explain how excited I am," USC defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles said Saturday following the scrimmage at Williams-Brice Stadium. "We've been working all summer, the whole team. We're a complete team. We're going to be fine. We're ready for this game."
USC coaches have mined North Carolina for talent over the past decade, pulling out standouts such as defensive linemen Melvin Ingram and Travian Robertson, and cornerback/kick returner Chris Culliver. The 2013 roster contains 14 players from the Tar Heel State, most prominently left tackle Corey Robinson, tight end Drew Owens, defensive tackle J.T. Surratt and wide receiver K.J. Brent.
"I have a couple people I know playing for the Tar Heels," Brent said recently. "When it was scheduled in my freshman year, we talked about it and knew it was going to be a good game. Battle of the border. I'm looking forward to it.
Listed on the depth chart as the first-team defensive tackle, Surratt, who graduated from Parkland High School in Winston-Salem, N.C., could make his second career start against UNC.
The matchup 10 days from now represents the first of two meetings between USC and North Carolina over the next three seasons. Brent will be a fifth-year senior when the Gamecocks and Tar Heels clash at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte in 2015.
Intrigue surrounding the first clash between USC and UNC in six years (Gamecocks won, 21-15, in Chapel Hill in 2007) is multiplied by the fact that two current Gamecock coaches (Grady Brown and Deke Adams) have recently worked under UNC head coach Larry Fedora, while USC special teams coordinator Joe Robinson coached at UNC in 2011 before joining the USC staff.
Moreover, USC athletic director Ray Tanner is a graduate of N.C. State, one of UNC's most fierce rivals.
Adams and Brown have intimate knowledge of the fast-tempo offense favored by Fedora, and should have integral roles into preparation of the game plan. Adams will emphasize that UNC likes to run the ball, as well.
"I've been around Coach Fedora for four years. He was great to me and my family," Adams said recently. "I know some of the things they do and some of the things they like to do in certain situations. I know it's an offense that people think is wide open and they like to throw the ball everywhere. But they like to run the ball as much as throw it. So, like every game, you have to stop the run first."
Quarles said USC has already started preparing for the rapid pace in which UNC runs its no-huddle offense by practicing more quickly than usual by racing back to the line of scrimmage after every play.
"We're looking at the high-tempo offense in practice by getting lined up faster," Quarles said. "We ran to the ball much better this week, so we're looking real good."
Both the coaches and players have been watching UNC film since early summer, but serious preparations for the fast-paced Tar Heels won't begin until later this week.
"There's a difference between being in shape on the field and being in football shape," Quarles said. "Being in football shape means getting to the ball, getting ready and getting down and knowing your assignments, making sure you're ready to execute your plays.
"But the running and conditioning we did in the summer will play a big part because we'll need to get back to the line of scrimmage real quick. If we do that, we'll be fine. If we come out and slow them down, we'll be fine."
Steve Spurrier supports the philosophy that you can study too much for an exam if you're not careful.
"I've been watching film on North Carolina and they're a good team," Quarles said. "They'll come in here with the fast-paced offense. They'll come in on a high and they should. The crowd is going to be crazy. They're going to be jumping that night. I'm ready."
For the first time in school history, USC will enter a season opener with a national ranking higher than No. 9. The Gamecocks are ranked No. 6 (Associated Press) and No. 7 (USA Today Coaches poll) in the two major preseason polls.
Quarles, however, views that poll position as the floor, not the ceiling.
"That's just a start," Quarles said.
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