UNC battling history, as well as Gamecocks, in season opener

South Carolina has played a North Carolina ACC team in the season opener six times in the last 12 years — and won each of them

UNC's Marquise Williams avoids a tackle from South Carolina's Dante Sawyer in 2015 (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

When North Carolina and South Carolina play one another in Charlotte on Saturday, it will mark the sixth time in the last 12 years that the Gamecocks have opened a college football season by playing an ACC opponent from its neighboring state.

There’s a good reason why they keep scheduling those games.

It’s because they have yet to lose one.

Although some of the games have gone down to the wire before being decided, including the two most recent occasions, South has always seems to find a way to get the better of teams representing the North.

USC is 2-0 against the Tar Heels and 3-0 against the Wolfpack since 2008. It should also be noted that the Gamecocks beat UNC 31-10 in the first game of the 1985 season in a game that — like Saturday’s meeting — marked the debut of a Tar Heel coach named Mack Brown.

Overall, USC has won six straight against UNC and State since the Wolfpack’s 10-0 win in Columbia in 1999.

As far as Tar Heel offensive tackle Charlie Heck is concerned, it’s about time for the law of averages to kick in and allow a few of the bounces to finally go a North Carolina team’s way.

“I know the last time we came down to Charlotte to play them it was a close game and we didn’t finish it in the fourth quarter,” Heck said of his team’s 17-13 loss in 2015. “It’s all about having confidence going into those types of games. 

“We’ve had down seasons these past two years, but we can’t think of ourselves that we’re still that team. We haven’t lost any games yet this season. We haven’t won any yet, either, so obviously we have to go prove that. But it’s something that we’re excited about getting the chance to do.”

Here’s a look back at those past five season openers and what went wrong for the Tar Heels and Wolfpack:

USC 35, NC State 28 (2017, Charlotte): The Wolfpack outgained the Gamecocks by a whopping 504-226 margin and a time of possession advantage of more than 13 minutes, but two turnovers that led to USC touchdowns and a 97-yard return of the opening kickoff by Debo Samuel ended up doing in coach Dave Doeren’s team. Even with all that went wrong, State still had a shot at sending the game into overtime, but Ryan Finley’s fourth-and-goal pass to Kelvin Harmon in the end zone was broken up by linebacker D.J. Smith with 6 seconds remaining.

USC 17, UNC 13 (2015, Charlotte): As was the case with the Wolfpack, UNC also outgained the Gamecocks. This time it was 440-394. And as was the case in 2017, the outcome was decided by a fourth down play in the end zone made by a USC linebacker. This time it was Skai Moore, whose second interception of Marquise Williams in the game with 3:48 left ended the Tar Heels’ final chance at the win. It turned out to be UNC’s only loss of the regular season on its way to the ACC Coastal Division title.

USC 27, UNC 10 (2013, Columbia, S.C.): The only real drama in this game came in the final seconds, when after a long weather delay, USC coach Steve Spurrier tried to throw the ball deep from his own 1-yard line in the final minute — prompting UNC’s Larry Fedora to call a time out to force the Gamecocks to punt with 1 second left. Spurrier, not to be outdone, then called a timeout of his own, prompting a contentious postgame handshake. As for the game itself, Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson both threw touchdown passes to stake the Gamecocks to a 17-0 lead they never relinquished.

USC 7, NC State 3 (2009, Raleigh): The Gamecocks limited Russell Wilson and his offense to just 133 yards and a single field goal in a game that was much more one-sided than the score indicates. USC botched two field goal attempts and had a touchdown called back by an offensive interference penalty. The Wolfpack meanwhile, got its only points on a 43-yard field goal by Josh Czajkowski late in the third quarter.

USC 34, NC State 0 (2008, Columbia): Contrary to 2009, this one wasn’t as lopsided as the score indicates. The Gamecocks led just 3-0 at halftime and 13-0 after three quarters before backup quarterback Chris Smelley came off the bench and led them to 21 fourth quarter points to blow the game open.