COLUMBIA, S.C. -- The college football season is back. After an offseason filled with one Johnny Manziel story after another, it was nice to have some actual football to watch and discuss. I flew across the country to witness the border battle between the North Carolina Tar Heels and the South Carolina Gamecocks. Here are my observations following the Gamecocks' 27-10 victory:
» Jadeveon Clowney wasn't dominant in this game but he had a handful of disruptive plays against the pass and flashed his explosive closing speed on a few running plays to the opposite side of the field. His conditioning was definitely an issue. He was doubled over after numerous plays and took more than a few plays off as the game wore on. The combination of the scorching heat and the fast break pace of the Tar Heels' offense factored into the equation, but he was clearly the most gassed of any South Carolina defender. After the game, he told reporters he suffered from a stomach virus earlier in the week.
Clowney's conditioning was a topic of conversation at halftime, but there wasn't much concern from the NFL evaluators. It's the first game of the year, he's missed some practice time and he played against a very fast-paced offense. However, if this becomes a pattern and he's still sucking wind by the third game of the year, I believe there will be genuine concern.
» South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw isn't viewed as an upper-echelon NFL prospect, but he was impressive in last night's contest. He showed poise, touch and the ability to create plays with his legs. He lacks ideal size, but he looked like a possible late-round draft pick based on last night's performance.
» North Carolina left tackle James Hurst had a very solid outing, more than holding his own vs. Clowney and the rest of the Gamecocks' talented defensive front. I was very impressed with his ability to anchor down against the bull rush, and he did a nice job of running Clowney around the loop when he tried to beat him with speed. Hurst does lack the ability to quickly redirect vs. counter moves, but he usually had assistance from a teammate to cover it up.
» I was very impressed after recently studying North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron, and he was even more impressive in person. He has an NFL body and can explode in and out of his breaks to create separation from defenders. His statistics weren't special (four catches for 32 yards), but he's one of the most athletic tight ends in the country.
» The South Carolina offensive line dominated the football game. Left tackle Corey Robinson (6-foot-8, 341 pounds) is a massive man and consistently engulfed his defender against both the run and the pass. He doesn't have ideal foot quickness, but he is a powerful blocker capable of creating a ton of movement at the point of attack.
» The Gamecocks have two very dynamic sophomore skill players. Wide receiver Shaq Roland and running back Mike Davis both generated explosive plays. Roland hauled in a 65-yard touchdown on the first series of the game and Davis delivered the knockout punch with a 75-yard burst to the end zone in the middle of the third quarter. Roland's numbers would've been even more impressive (he finished with two catches for 75 yards), but a few deep balls were slightly underthrown.
» North Carolina defensive end Kareem Martin had some production in this game (five tackles) but I didn't see any explosiveness from his pass rush. He's a monotone rusher and he continually stalled on his bull rush. He does have excellent length and he plays with a good motor.
» North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner started off slow, but he settled in and played a solid game. He doesn't have a big arm and he missed a few early-drive throws, but he rebounded and displayed solid touch and timing. He was a little bit bigger in person than I expected, and he showed toughness to hang in the pocket and take some shots.