College football is back! Boy, does that feel good to write.
One of the more interesting matchups in the season is a Thursday-night tilt between No. 9 South Carolina and a Vanderbilt team that has more talent than people realize. With a home game in Nashville, Vandy should actually give the Gamecocks some problems.
Plus, the game will mark the return of Marcus Lattimore, one of the top running backs in the country. And if nothing else, don't you want to see Steve Spurrier's blood pressure rise on the sideline?
Let's preview this early SEC clash between a team with major aspirations this season and a program quietly on the rise.
When: Thursday, August 30 at 7:00 p.m. ET
Where: Vanderbilt Stadium, Nashville, Tennessee
Listen: SiriusXM 91, NewsRadio 1510 WLAC (Nashville),
Live Streaming: WatchESPN
Betting Line: South Carolina (-7), according to Bovada
South Carolina Injuries (via USA Today)
QB Connor Shaw, Back, Probable
RB Marcus Lattimore, Knee, Probable
Vanderbilt Injuries (via USA Today)
What's at Stake
Oh, just the National Championship and SEC aspirations for South Carolina. Coming into the season as the preseason No. 9 after last year's 11-2 campaign, fervor is at an all-time high in Columbia.
But Vanderbilt isn't going to simply play the role of pushover. After a Liberty Bowl appearance a season ago, Commodores fans are excited about this Vandy side. They would like nothing more than to play early-season spoilers and knock off the Gamecocks.
South Carolina Player to Watch: Marcus Lattimore
College football fans have been deprived of watching Lattimore play since he injured his knee last season and missed the Gamecocks' final six games. He was on his way to an epic season, having already compiled 818 yards and 11 total touchdowns, and has the sort of talent to be a Heisman candidate this season.
So how will he look on Thursday night?
Expect Lattimore to see plenty of touches and remain the focal point of South Carolina's offense. The Vandy defense will have their hands full with the talented runner.
Vanderbilt Player to Watch: Zac Stacy
With a young offensive line that has to deal with a stout South Carolina front seven, running back Zac Stacy may find the going difficult on Thursday. But if quarterback Jordan Rodgers and receivers Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd can keep South Carolina honest, Stacy may find some running room.
If Vandy can run the ball in this one, look out. They have a better offense than most people think, led by Stacy, who quietly rushed for 1,193 yards and 14 touchdowns last season. Don't be surprised if Stacy and the Commodores give the South Carolina defense all it can handle.
What They're Saying
The two coaches of these sides, Steve Spurrier for South Carolina and James Franklin of Vanderbilt, have put a different level of emphasis on this contest.
From Teresa Walker of the Associated Press (via ESPN):
"Every team each year sort of sets their goals and we've set our goals, very similar to last year," Spurrier said. "We're going to see if we can achieve our goals and hopefully do a little better than last year."
And that means starting quickly against the Commodores, who have lost their past three to South Carolina but are treating this one as more than a simple starting point.
"This is the only thing that exists," Vanderbilt coach James Franklin said. "This is our Super Bowl. No other game exists."
Key Matchup: Vanderbilt's Offensive Line vs. South Carolina's Defensive Line
Defensive ends Devin Taylor and Jadeveon Clowney are huge talents and should cause problems for a young offensive line all day long. South Carolina may have lost Melvin Ingram, but the defensive line still has plenty of talent remaining.
If Vanderbilt is going to win this contest, it will be because the talented skill-position players of the Commodores can make the game a shootout. But if they can't run the ball or keep the quarterback protected, that will be a moot point.
If Vanderbilt's offensive line doesn't show up, Vandy won't show up on the scoreboard either.
Vandy is more talented than people think. But South Carolina is stacked. This one will be a fun watch, but ultimately the Gamecocks will prevail, 28-17.
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