Holtz enjoys ties to Pack, Gamecocks

Staff WriterSeptember 1, 2009 

It's been almost five years since Lou Holtz coached at South Carolina, 34 years since he left N.C. State.

But the 72-year-old ESPN college football analyst still has pleasant memories of both places.

Holtz fondly recalls his children swimming in the pool and jumping on a trampoline at Cary's MacGregor Downs, where they lived half a block from the golf course's 17th tee.

Then there were all those honorary memberships to golf clubs.

"My wife was worried about the 14-club rule," Holtz joked. "She said you can't belong to more than 14 clubs at a time."

Long removed from his time at both schools, Holtz offered his perspective on Thursday night's season-opener (7 p.m., ESPN) between the Gamecocks and Wolfpack:

On last season's game: "South Carolina really dominated them last year, 34-0. But I think N.C. State is a different football team with Russell Wilson at quarterback. That guy is really special. I think N.C. State will be a much-improved football team this year. I think defensively they should be pretty good."

On the Gamecocks: "South Carolina, no matter how you look at them, I think they're very talented defensively. They're awfully good. I think the whole key to them is going to be their freshman running back [Jarvis Giles], who had such a sensational spring. And then their quarterback [Stephen Garcia], how good is he going to be?

"Defensively, they ought to be excellent. ... [Linebacker] Eric Norwood, this guy is a great football player. They have [linebacker] Rodney Paulk, he started in '07. They have good linebackers, good speed up front and on the defensive line.

On the Wolfpack: "I just like N.C. State as a real surprise team. I think if [running back] Jamelle Eugene plays really well, that should help. [Running back] Toney Baker was outstanding a couple years ago. But is he going to be able to bounce back? I just think Russell Wilson is the real deal.

"Defensively, they've got good experience up front. They're playing at home, and the fact that they got beaten 34-0 last year makes it a really interesting matchup."

On the job coach Tom O'Brien is doing at N.C. State: "The jury would still be out, but I don't think he has anything to prove. He proved at Boston College he can win on a continuous basis. I think it's like everything else. You're an average coach if you have an average quarterback. If you have a great quarterback, you're a great coach. And I think you've got a great quarterback there.

"If you look at them last year, starting out the year they were very, very poor last year until Russell came on at East Carolina. And I think they won it in overtime [30-24]. But he just makes things happen. There's no doubt that Tom's an excellent football coach. You have to look at what he did at Boston College and the improvement that N.C. State has made under him."

On the job Steve Spurrier is doing at South Carolina: "I think he's done a nice job there. He's been to bowls every year but one, I think. They didn't finish as strong as what they'd like, but he's very well liked there. He's very popular with the fans and with the players. I think that people are very optimistic about this year going into this year. When you look at it, I think it's going to be a critical year. This is his fifth year there. He has all his own players there now."

ktysiac@charlotteobserver.com or 919-829-8942

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