South Carolina vs. Vanderbilt: Marcus Lattimore, Props and Predictions

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South Carolina vs. Vanderbilt: Marcus Lattimore, Props and Predictions
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Led by star running back Marcus Lattimore in his return from injury, South Carolina visits Vanderbilt next Thursday, August 30 to kick off their 2012 season.

Lattimore was the nation’s top freshman running back in 2010 and on a short list of Heisman contenders heading into the 2011 season. And it looked early on as if Lattimore would get an invitation to New York as a Heisman finalist.

In his first three games, Lattimore had a ridiculous 534 yards rushing and seven touchdowns as USC started 3-0, including a crucial win over Georgia in Week 2. Lattimore was held a bit in check in the Gamecocks’ Week 4 win vs. Vanderbilt and Week 5 loss to Auburn, but he still scored in each game. The sophomore then topped 100 again in Week 6 vs. Kentucky but was held out of the end zone.

Unfortunately, Lattimore’s season would come to an end in the next game against Mississippi State when he tore his ACL. And it wasn’t even while being tackled but blocking downfield.

He finished the year with 818 yards on 163 carries, a tidy average of 5.0 yards per carry, and had 10 rushing touchdowns. Extrapolate those numbers over a 12-game regular season, and Lattimore is among the national leaders in both. And maybe with him, the Gamecocks don’t lose Nov. 5 at Arkansas, which essentially cost South Carolina the SEC East title.

Lattimore missed the spring while rehabbing that injury but will be good to go Thursday night when South Carolina opens at Vanderbilt. And Lattimore is among the top seven Heisman favorites at 18/1 on Bovada, as well as 9/2 to finish in the top three.

I wouldn’t take Lattimore to win the Heisman because it’s so hard to do these days at his position. Only one running back—if you don’t count Reggie Bush’s vacated trophy—has won a Heisman this century.

Coach Steve Spurrier is known for his “Fun ‘N Gun” passing offense at Florida, but these Gamecocks will pound the ball and win with defense. So Lattimore will get his carries. And QB Connor Shaw is good enough that defenses can’t just stuff eight in the box to slow the ground game.

Thus, it might be worth betting on a top-three finish for Lattimore if you believe South Carolina goes, say, 11-1 and reaches the SEC title game.

Bovada’s props for Lattimore’s season are “over/under” 1,400 yards (under a minus-135 favorite) and 15.5 touchdowns (both minus-120). I would worry about the over on both because USC faces very good defenses in Georgia, LSU and Florida this year—all three games in a row, by the way.

But those totals include a possible SEC Championship Game and a bowl game. I would still take the under on the yards as just one SEC back went over 1,400 last year (Alabama’s Trent Richardson), but the touchdowns over should be an easy winner because Lattimore will get the ball every time at the goal line.

You can also bet on Lattimore vs. other top SEC backs in most rushing yards and rushing scores. Lattimore is plus-135 on yards and plus-185 on TDs. He’s up against Arkansas’ Knile Davis (plus-180/190), Alabama’s Eddie Lacy (plus-280/190), Vanderbilt’s Zac Stacy (plus-455/445) and Texas A&M’s Christine Michael (plus-475/455).

Lacy will be sharing carries on the Tide, defenses frankly aren’t scared of any Vanderbilt player, and Michael himself is coming off a torn ACL, plus the Aggies are going to find defenses much different in the SEC.

Davis was a stud in the second half of 2010; he missed all of last season with his own major knee injury. But the Hogs should have the best offense in the conference, and I think Davis puts up big yardage numbers. Take him there and Lattimore on the touchdowns.

This year’s Gamecocks are being touted as easily the most talented in the Spurrier era and potentially the best group in school history. No. 9 USC is the only ranked team in action next Thursday night and is a seven-point favorite vs. Vandy with the total at 46 on 5Dimes.

Vanderbilt was 6-7 last season and lost to Cincinnati in the Liberty Bowl. The Commodores’ only two SEC wins were against the worst teams in the conference, Ole Miss and Kentucky. They were 0-3 vs. ranked teams, including a 21-3 loss at South Carolina (-14.5) on Sept. 24, 2011.

Vandy managed only three points despite picking off USC QB Stephen Garcia four times because the Gamecocks held the Commodores to 77 total yards and five first downs. It was the fewest yards USC had allowed since 1987. Lattimore had 77 yards and a TD on 20 carries; he also had three receptions for 73 yards and a score (his only receiving TD of 2011).

I see no reason why this year’s game will be any different. Jordan Rodgers, younger brother of Green Bay’s Aaron, won the Commodores’ QB job in camp. He was 4-for-7 for 29 yards in relief in that South Carolina game. Stacy is a fine back who rushed for 1,193 yards and 14 scores last year. But he was held to 18 yards on seven carries vs. South Carolina. Nine starters are back on offense for Vandy.

The 2011 Commodores scored more points (347) than any Vanderbilt team since 1915, but against good defenses, they struggled. And South Carolina is a very good one. Vandy’s was pretty solid last year but lost studs Chris Marve (three-time All-SEC linebacker) and Casey Hayward (All-American cornerback), the team’s two best on that side of the ball. Seven starters are back overall.

I don’t see how Vanderbilt can score more than 14 points Thursday. The Gamecocks likely won’t blow out Vandy, and, yes, the Commodores are 7-1 ATS in their past eight at home, but USC will cover. And definitely take the under as it has it in four of the past five meetings.

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