Gamecock football returns to the field this weekend, opening the season against No. 21 North Carolina in the 2023 Duke’s Mayo Classic in Charlotte.
The Daily Gamecock spoke with Shelby Swanson, the sports editor for The Daily Tar Heel, to break down the UNC football team and the highly-anticipated rematch of the 2021 Duke’s Mayo Bowl. The game is set for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff on Saturday at Bank of America Stadium.
The Daily Gamecock: Coming into this year, what is the atmosphere around the North Carolina football program like?
Shelby Swanson: “I think there's certainly a lot of hype. I mean there really has to be when you have a quarterback like Drake Maye on the team, (who) broke all kinds of school records last year (and is) a Heisman hopeful.”
“The motto that keeps getting thrown in around fall camp is sort of the idea of moving from good to great. The team finished just short of 10 wins last season. Four-game losing streak to end the season really left a bad taste in their mouths, and it's a team that I think, with real studs like Cedric Gray and Drake Maye, they know that they're a lot better than their record last year shows.”
This game is a rematch from the 2021 Mayo Bowl. What is the difference between the UNC team now and the team from two seasons ago?
“Chip Lindsey's in as the new OC (offensive coordinator). Phil Longo is out. But still, you are going to see that kind of air-raid offense, and if you're UNC, hopefully, a lot more consistent defense, especially in terms of giving up explosive plays.”
“There's going to be a really big emphasis on the defense. They don't have to be stellar, especially, again, when you have a quarterback like Drake Maye, but just being consistent. I think a lot of emphasis will be put on the secondary position group that's seen a lot of turnover in the off-season.”
You’ve mentioned Drake Maye and the hype that he has surrounding him, so is he worth the hype?
“I was actually on the phone earlier with Steelers QB Mitch Trubisky for a Drake Maye feature I'm working on, and he said around the NFL right now, it's pretty much consensus he's going to be a top two, top three pick.”
“He went for — I have it up here — 4,321 yards last season, and he's kind of joked that he thinks he has a few hundred left in the tank. He is just an absolute stud, one of the top QBs to come through UNC, in a school that's put out stars like Mitch Trubisky (and) Sam Howell.”
“I think the hype is certainly there, and now it's going to become a matter of 'can he put together a 10-win season?'”
The NCAA denied wide receiver Devontez Walker’s waiver to play. Can you give an update on that situation, and how is the team responding to his absence?
“Essentially what we're looking at is, this really strict interpretation of that two-time transfer directive is being applied to him.”
“Last time I talked to coaches, they're pretty much still full speed ahead with him in practice. The open practices I went to, he was suited up, so they're really treating the situation as if he will play. But at this point, we still have not heard anything."
Part of the Tar Heels' struggles last season was the defense’s inability to get stops. What do they need to do to stop a South Carolina team that ended the season hot on offense?
“UNC had a huge, huge issue at the end of last season, especially in games like, for example that ACC championship game against Clemson, giving up those explosive plays. But seeing a lot of turnover — obviously again, bringing in Alijah Huzzie who really, I can't hype him up enough, looked great in fall camp.”
“It's more or less just counting on the defense to be average.”
Do you have anything else to add, maybe about UNC football or just the matchup in general?
“I think, really, this is a game that is going to determine the tone of the UNC season. I mean, they can win, start off with a bang or suffer a loss here.”
“There's the whole kind of borderline rivalry. Which team can claim to be the true Carolina? I mean, I know which school I would say, but that's neither here nor there.”
"I'm going to say South Carolina, slight edge. I think the score, again, just based on kind of the potent offenses and what we saw in that UNC-App State game last year, it's going to be somewhere around the fifties for both teams. I think it's going to be close. I think it's going to be a shootout, but I'm going to give South Carolina the slight edge.”