Carolina Countdown continues with the season only a few days away next week, when the Tar Heels will be facing the #6/7 South Carolina Gamecocks next Thursday night.
Here, Tar Heel Illustrated will be doing an opening week special, breaking down every position and seeing who might have the advantage in the opening game to start the season of college football.
In our first look, we will be discussing the quarterback position, where the two teams will have experienced guys in the backfield that will be leading their team in week one. One could say, the quarterback position for these two teams might be the strongest part for the Gamecocks and for the Tar Heels, as UNC will be returning senior Bryn Renner and the Gamecocks will be returning senior Connor Shaw.
North Carolina: Bryn Renner
Renner will be a name that should be heard throughout the ACC this upcoming season, as he is one of the top returning quarterbacks in the league.
Last year, Renner had completed 256 passes on 422 attempts, pushing him over the 3,000 yard mark for the second time in his career at UNC (3,356).
He completed over 65 percent of his passes last year, averaging 8.0 yards per attempt and currently has the highest passing efficiency rating in ACC history (154.59).
In eight games last year Renner threw two or more touchdowns, while having two games where he threw for five touchdowns (at Louisville and against Maryland).
However, Renner never had a game where he threw more than one interception, and never completed less than 55 percent of his passes last year.
Renner has been able to thrive under the system of Larry Fedora and his high octane offense, and with a year under his belt, he should be one of the leaders on the team that will have to help control the offense, make good decisions on the field, and while mentoring the younger guys on the team.
His ability with smart decision making will be key against the Gamecocks, who will be returning several key players on the defensive line and in the secondary. However, the Gamecocks are also looking to replace several key pieces on their defense, especially at the linebacker position.
There is no doubt here that UNC will look to get the ball to their playmakers on the field and working with their speed over the middle could be an area of concern for the Gamecocks. Short, quick, and accurate throws could be what pushes North Carolina pass the Gamecocks, allowing the Tar Heels to use their speed and deny the ability for Jadeveon Clowney to get in the backfield.
South Carolina: Connor Shaw
Shaw has been up and down throughout his career with Steve Spurrier and finally seemed to gather control of the team last year with his ability to throw the ball and provide another weapon with his running ability.
Last season, Shaw was able to complete 67.5 percent of his passes, completing 154 passes for 1,956 yards in the air; throwing for 17 touchdowns and only having seven interceptions. But Spurrier loves his ability to create also on the field, as Shaw had 435 yards on the ground (three touchdowns).
All those numbers look good on paper, even when he missed a few games due to injury. However, Shaw doesn't always receive the praise for a quarterback that has gone 17-3 over his career and leading South Carolina to back to back 11-2 seasons.
With quarterbacks named like Aaron Murray, AJ McCarron, and Johnny Manziel, sometimes it can be hard to break out behind such great leaders and players.
But that is no reason to believe that the Gamecocks wouldn't be ranked as high and contend for a National Championship without Shaw. Shaw has the ability to be very accurate at times with his receivers (last year against Missouri, Shaw completed 20 of 21 passes for 249 yards), while defenses have to prepare for his ability to create and scramble when the pocket breaks down.
The Tar Heels were skeptical last year on defense and the Gamecocks will be looking to do some of the same against them on Thursday night in a hostile, yet home crowd to start off the season.
Advantage: Connor Shaw
These are two very talented quarterbacks for two talented teams. Each quarterback brings a sense of leadership and drive that have made them successful in the past.
Each one fits in their system but couldn't be any more different in the way they play. But when comparing these two guys, one also has to take in effect the weapons around them and who will be on the other side of the ball. Renner will have several weapons around him with some good yet some inexperienced talent after losing a few key weapons at wide receiver and running back.
Also, Renner is a mobile quarterback and can move in the pocket, but not the same way as Shaw does and how much of a threat he could be. Renner is just in a system that allows him to get the ball to his playmakers, whoever it may be out there.
Shaw on the other hand, still has weapons on the outside at wide receiver but has that dimension that gives teams trouble on defense; his legs, which causes the issue of using one or two defenders in the box to keep an eye on Shaw at all times.
That and with his large USC offensive line, which will be discussed later on in Carolina Countdown, there could be a slight edge towards Shaw.
However, discussing these two guys is like trying to find a needle in a haystack; there are very few things one can find between the two to not like, especially in totally different systems.
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