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August 28, 2013

Best Case/Worst Case: UNC





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Wide receivers

Best case: Bruce Ellington rests and does not have to play. In his absence, the combination of Nick Jones, Damiere Byrd and Shaq Roland perform admirable, with even a surprise breakout performance from one of the three, preferably the highly touted Roland. The group answers all questions and gives quarterback Connor Shaw a legitimate group of downfield threats to ease pressure on the running game.



Worst case: Roland is inconsistent with some big drops, Byrd can't make the deep, downfield catches he's on the field to make and Jones just can't get open. The passing game evaporates faster than an ice cube on a hot stove, and a depleted, hobbled tight end unit offers no help. With all the attention turned on a running game that can't establish a rhythm and is too one-dimensional UNC hangs around long enough to get big plays from receiver Quinshad Davis and tight end Eric Ebron to make it a game in the fourth quarter.



Most likely: The unit is unspectacular but makes two big plays to lead scoring drives. Both Roland and Byrd have their moments, but also disappear for long stretches. In short, USC goes into the UGA game hoping for Ellington to return and still searching for another threat - maybe a Pharoh Cooper or K.K. Brent or Shamier Jeffery - to emerge.



Linebackers

Worst case: UNC uses Ebron mercilessly to expose a height advantage at spur (Sharrod Golightly is 5-foot-10, Ebron is 6-4) and its speed over the middle to beat a backup linbacker starting at the weakside position (Marquis Roberts). Disguising their routes, the Tar Heels confuse the new linebackers enough to gash them for big gains early and shake their confidence.



Best case: Kaiwan Lewis plays like the stud he's expected to be and Roberts shows why he's been able to hold off a host of supremely talented freshman for the backup role while Cedric Cooper, the starter coming out of spring at the weakside position, has been out (and Cooper is expected back in pads Saturday). Golightly not only displays the speed to stay with the tight ends he'll be matched up with but also snares a pick and nice return in the process. All three demonstrate stout run support, and the unit goes into Georgia flying high.



Most likely: Lewis will be a beast and the rotation of fresh legs to the weakside spot with freshmen Skai Moore and Larenz Bryant more than make up for any inexperience. The supreme talent on the defensive line and SEC-worthy players in the defensive backfield make this opener a smooth one for a linebacking corps that is only going to improve with age.



Running backs

Worst case: Mike Davis displays a hesitancy to hit the hole and dances in the backfield too long, taking too many losses on plays that hamper drives. Conversely, Brandon Wilds runs into holes but doesn't make the cuts necessary to turn a 3-yard run into a 12-yard run, and drive after drive stalls. Shon Carson comes in the game to show explosiveness, but drops a screen pass or two and fumbles a handoff. As was the case for stretches in 2012, in this scenario Shaw becomes the only running threat and takes a physical beating that could impact the team's long-term goals.



Best case: Both Davis and Wilds, using different styles, run roughshod over a Tar Heel defense that can't come off the blocks of star guards A.J. Cann and Ronald Patrick and newly minted stud center Cody Waldrop. As a change of pace, Carson come in and turns a screen pass into a 60-yard touchdown to put the game out of reach. Both Wilds and Davis go over 100 yards and the team finishes with close to 300 yards on the ground, maybe a bit more.



Most likely: One of the two, probably Davis, goes for 100-plus yards and Wilds gets about 70. Both have multiple runs of 10 yards or longer, both score touchdowns and both form, together, the kind of complete package that the coaches are counting on, a legitimate two-headed monster that will spur the Gamecocks to greatly improve on their disappointing team rushing numbers from a year ago.



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