North Carolina-South Carolina Preview

Published Sep. 2, 2015 1:08 p.m. EDT

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Connor Mitch will probably be a little too busy Thursday night to do much reminiscing.

But South Carolina's sophomore quarterback will see some familiar faces when he makes his first career college start against border state rival North Carolina in a neutral site game.

Mitch played for Wakefield High School in Raleigh, North Carolina, and said he knows many of the Tar Heels. He's particularly tight with is Tar Heels receiver Jordan Fieulleteau, a 6-foot-3 sophomore who was Mitch's favorite target in high school.

''No nerves, just excitement,'' said Mitch, who beat out three other competitors this summer to win the starting job.


Mitch threw for 4,661 yards and 63 touchdowns in helping Wakefield to an 11-2 mark with Fieulleteau contributing 111 receptions for 1,669 yards and 25 TDs.

''He's very capable,'' South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said of Mitch. ''We're going to give him all the support we can. Hopefully, we will have some good plays on and he gets off to a good start.''

Mitch faces a defense that was one of the worst in the nation last season.

The Tar Heels have aggressively tried to revamp their defense, bringing in new coaches, changing the scheme and tinkering with personnel after a year in which they surrendered more points (39) and yards (497.8) per game than any other team in school history. The Tar Heels were so bad they allowed instate foe East Carolina to score 70 points and pile up 789 yards.

''I think they've absorbed a lot,'' first-year defensive coordinator Gene Chizik said. ''I think they've been very tuned in to what we're asking them to do. You never know what you're going to get until you turn the lights on as we all know.''


Some things to watch Thursday night:

UNC'S BACKFIELD: UNC has settled on sophomore Elijah Hood as its starting tailback instead of junior T.J. Logan. The Charlotte Catholic High School star was a touted recruit who struggled through an injury-plagued debut season, but can move the pile with a 6-foot, 220-pound frame. If Hood can provide a physical tone, that could take the pressure off dual-threat quarterback Marquise Williams.

DEPTH PERCEPTION: South Carolina's thin depth at wide receiver took another hit in the last week of camp with the loss of freshmen Shaq Davidson and Jerad Washington to season-ending injuries. Washington was listed as a third-team receiver on the team's depth chart to face North Carolina. Pharoh Cooper is the team's only returning receiver with significant experience.

SPURRIER AND THE HEELS: Spurrier enjoys facing North Carolina. The Gamecocks coach is a perfect 5-0 against the Tar Heels in his career, dating back to his time coaching at Duke. South Carolina defeated the Tar Heels 21-15 in 2007 at Chapel Hill and 27-10 two years ago when the teams began the season in Columbia, South Carolina. The two schools announced Thursday they will play again in Charlotte in 2019 and 2023.

SWITZER'S RETURNS: Ryan Switzer tied an NCAA single-season record with five punt returns for touchdowns as a freshman, but he didn't get one during a frustrating sophomore season. Both Switzer and Fedora have talked about the importance of taking care of the ball and not trying to force a big play. If he breaks one early in the year, that could mean a jolt of restored confidence.

TAR HEEL KICKERS: The Tar Heels struggled to make field goals last year. They made 6 of 13 on the season and none longer than 30 yards, turning every attempt into an iffy bet for a fast-moving offense. Nick Weiler beat out redshirt freshman Freeman Jones in a preseason battle for the starting job after a 5-for-8 season last year, so he'll get the first shot to help UNC convert on stalled drives.


AP Sports Writers Pete Iacobelli in Columbia, South Carolina and Aaron Beard in Chapel Hill, North Carolina contributed to this report.