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Staff Picks: Vols vs South Carolina

After a big win against Kentucky, the Vols are huge favorites against South Carolina. Will they live up to expectations? See what our staff thinks.

Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

It was a big weekend for the Vols and the staff, as six of the seven predicted the Vols to cover the nine-point spread against Kentucky in Lexington, and Tennessee came through in style, riding a 28-point third quarter to a dominating 52-21 victory. For the second week in a row, Closest to the Pin goes to Will, whose 45-17 prediction was just three points off on the final margin and 11 points off the total. But for the second week in a row, he was topped by yrekacavol in the comments, whose 52-17 prediction hit Tennessee's score on the nose and fell just four points off the Wildcats' total (and thus the margin and the overall total).

This week, with the 3-5 (1-5 SEC) South Carolina Gamecocks coming to town and the Vols with a chance to even their SEC record at 3-3, the staff is approaching a consensus not seen since the WCU game in September. The staff went 6-1 in that contest, and Vols fans can only hope that performance is repeated this week.

Incipient (5-3 straight up, 5-3 against the spread): While South Carolina has played better the last couple weeks, the fact remains that they have been consistently gashed by every competent run game they've faced. Tennessee has a competent run game, and unless things reverse course in a hurry or Tennessee's poor ball security against Kentucky gets even worse, the Vols should be able to put up 40+. As for the Gamecocks? Brandon Wilds is a solid back--who put up almost 150 yards against the Vols last year on only eight carries--and Pharoh Cooper can dominate at receiver. But, unlike last season, Tennessee's defense has been improving over the course of the year as players like Corey Vereen, Darrin Kirkland Jr., Justin Martin, and Micah Abernathy begin to contribute more and more. On the USC side, Perry Orth is a step down from Dylan Thompson at quarterback, and a couple playmakers aren't enough for a frightening offense. The Gamecocks will get theirs, but not in large quantities. Tennessee 48 South Carolina 21

Hunter (4-4 straight up, 5-3 against the spread): South Carolina in 2015 is almost exactly like South Carolina in 2014, only worse. The Gamecocks are explosive on offense, but not efficient-- a solid running game with Brandon Wilds is paired with a passing game that is boom-or-bust despite the presence of talented wide receiver Pharoh Cooper. South Carolina struggles to finish in the red zone (114th in points per trip inside the 40) meaning that a drive without any explosive plays is likely to fizzle out completely. On defense, the Gamecocks are just awful-- Spurrier's handpicked defensive coordinator Jon Hoke directs a unit that somehow manages to both bend and break with equal aptitude.

All of this adds up to a game that will hinge on Tennessee's improvement in the secondary on defense and ability to take care of the football on offense. If the Vols play steady and disciplined, this game will be over by halftime. If Tennessee turns the ball over or gives up long plays with poor tackling, this game will play out much like Bowling Green. Tennessee 49 South Carolina 17.

Chris (6-2 straight up, 5-3 against the spread): Let's get irrational: 3 Cam Sutton punt return TDs, 1 Cam Sutton INT return TD, and ...yeah, sure, Josh Dobbs runs for one. Why not. And yes, that South Carolina 2 is on a blocked XP, because this line is -17, South Carolina's fast-forwarded to basketball season, and pretty much everyone else nailed my score predictions. GET OFF MY CORNER, WILL. Tennessee 34 South Carolina 2

Charlie (5-3 straight up, 6-2 against the spread): South Carolina looked better against Texas A&M, but "better" for South Carolina means they weren't completely in shambles. Not to mention, Texas A&M has been hot garbage lately. This is not to say that South Carolina will be an absolute breeze to dispose of for Tennessee. The Gamecocks have Pharoh Cooper to make plays but their defense has been abysmal. They're 13th in total defense and they're allowing an average of 215 yards on the ground this season. With Josh Dobbs, Jalen Hurd, and Alvin Kamara, Tennessee should be able to score plenty of points. South Carolina is also 12th in total offense and the Vols' defense, which was airtight against Kentucky, should be able to handle them well enough. This game will probably stay close in the first half, much like UT's game against the Wildcats, but eventually Tennessee will wear the Gamecocks down and run away with this one. Tennessee 45 South Carolina 24

Nathanael (5-3 straight up, 4-4 against the spread): South Carolina has no business being in this game once it hits the third quarter. Actually, they really have no business being in this game after the first quarter if Tennessee plays like they should. South Carolina's offense has looked less than stellar all season despite what they were able to do against Texas A&M. And even then it didn't look that much better than average for most of the game. Then there's their defense, which might actually be worse than the defense that gave up 45 points to the Vols last season. The Gamecocks have the worst rushing defense in the entire SEC, and the Vols have the third best rushing offense in the conference. That absolutely does not bode well for South Carolina. Joshua Dobbs had a field day against the Gamecocks last season, and with a healthy and more dynamic Jalen Hurd and electric Alvin Kamara at his side, the Vols should do whatever they want on the ground. I don't expect South Carolina to be much of a contest in front of a rowdy Neyland Stadium on Saturday. Especially if the Vols can force turnovers like they have been. The only thing keeping this from getting severely out of hand is South Carolina's solid special teams play and Tennessee calling off the dogs. Tennessee 48 South Carolina 17

Joel (5-3 straight up, 6-2 against the spread): Tennessee 45 South Carolina 20

Will (5-3 straight up, 5-3 against the spread): It feels strange to look at the score I've got down there and think, "I'm being a little conservative."  I think there's the potential for this to get a little Bowling Green-ish, where the Vols just can't help themselves from scoring and South Carolina also gets their fair share, in part due to lots of opportunities.  52 against Kentucky came via two returns and one short field, so the Vols got 31 in three quarters against the Cats offensively.  I'd look for a similar pace and similar enjoyment late; it won't be true later this month, but this will be the second week in a row when there just doesn't appear to be much the defense can do to stop what Tennessee really, really wants to do. Tennessee 41 South Carolina 20

Rocky Top Talk Staff Average (4-4 straight up, 5-3 against the spread): Tennessee 44 South Carolina 17

Vegas (for reference): Tennessee -17, over/under 58. Tennessee 38 South Carolina 21