2012 Capital One Bowl Nebraska vs South Carolina Odds, Free Picks and Predictions on ESPN 1/2/12

Free College Football Bowl Picks and Spreads: Nebraska vs South Carolina 2012 Capital One Bowl Vegas Odds, Free Picks, and Expert Predictions on ESPN 1/2/12: If the 20th-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers (9-3) think transitioning to life in the Big Ten was tough, they may face an even tougher test in Monday’s Capital One Bowl when they meet the ninth-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks (10-2), who will likely have a big chip on their shoulders. The Gamecocks should probably be in a BCS bowl, but a rule that prevents three teams from the same conference from being selected left South Carolina on the outside looking in. For the record, the Gamecocks slaughtered the Clemson Tigers, who will be playing in the Orange after winning the ACC. Politics aside, the Gamecocks are three-point favorites against the Cornhuskers.

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The two teams actually share a lot in common, especially on offense. Both sides are powered by their running games, with Nebraska ranking 14th in the country in rush yards and South Carolina ranking 26th. The two teams are even closer when it comes to putting points on the scoreboard. The Cornhuskers are averaging 30.5 a contest, and the Gamecocks aren’t far behind with 30.1. Granted, Nebraska uses an option attack compared the South Carolina’s pro-style system, but the end result has been nearly identical on the stat sheet.

For Nebraska, the ground game is led by quarterback Taylor Martinez and running back Rex Burkhead. The duo has combined for more than 2,100 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns this season, and both players are capable of breaking off long runs. Martinez is the more explosive of the two, but Burkhead has been the team’s workhorse, piling up nearly 1,300 yards thus far. Meanwhile, the Gamecocks are without their workhorse after Heisman candidate Marcus Lattimore went down with a knee injury early in the season. That being said, freshman Brandon Wilds has filled in admirably as the main back, and South Carolina has continued to run the ball effectively.

While the two programs are very similar on offense, the Gamecocks have a clear edge on defense. South Carolina allowed less than 19 points per game to opponents and ranked fourth in the country in yards allowed. Those totals are even more impressive considering that the Gamecocks play in the Southeastern Conference. The strength of the unit is its ability to pressure the quarterback, and defensive ends Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney are a big reason why. The duo could be even more productive than usual against Nebraska because while Martinez is an excellent at running outside of the pocket, he is still developing his passing skills. The pass rush of the Gamecocks could force Martinez into making some critical mistakes.

The X-factor in the game will likely be South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw. Shaw was forced to take over after starter Stephen Garcia was dismissed from the team. Surprisingly, Shaw brought stability to the position, exceeding expectations. If he continues to develop and improve, the South Carolina offense is only going to get better. Look for Shaw to find Alshon Jeffery down the field for some big plays Monday. Jeffery’s numbers suffered during the transition at quarterback, but he had more than 1,500 yards last season and caught touchdown passes in each of the final two games of this year. His rare combination of height and speed could make life tough on an average Nebraska secondary.

Breaking down the matchup, Nebraska has the better weapons on offense. However, the South Carolina defense is the best unit on the field for either side. The Gamecocks are one win away from the best season in program history, and while they would certainly prefer to be in a BCS bowl, setting a school record for victories should be more than enough motivation to stay focused. South Carolina’s defense is strong enough to force Martinez to be a passer, creating plenty of opportunities for the unit to force turnovers and set up the offense for easy scores.

Prediction: South Carolina Gamecocks (-2.5) Cover the Spread

Free College Football Picks and NCAAF Predictions: South Carolina -2.5 to cover the spread

2012 Capital One Bowl: Nebraska vs South Carolina
Date: 1/2/12
Time: 1 PM EST on ESPN
Vegas Odds Favorite: South Carolina -2.5 Total: Over/Under 46.5

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