The School: The University of South Carolina
Record: 0-0 (0-0 in the SEC). South Carolina was 3-9 in 2015. Did one of those wins come over Vanderbilt? Of course it did!
Ranking: Unranked in the AP Top 25 and Coaches' Poll. The formulas have USC rated 102 in the Real Time RPI (behind eight FCS schools and *shudder* Rutgers).
Mascot: The Gamecocks. Is there a bigger mascot disparity in college football than “honorary Naval position bestowed on a robber baron ” and “chickens bred to murder each other for gambling rednecks?”
Location: Columbia, South Carolina.
Coach: The odds-on favorite to be the first coach ejected from a game under the NCAA’s new rules!
A purveyor of elite defensive sets and an offensive background predicated solely on pressing the “Ask Corso” button in NCAA Football ‘07, Will Muschamp was Derek Mason before Derek Mason was cool. It took Mason over a year for him to drive one of his defensive backs out of football altogether. Muschamp did it in one offseason.
Ralph Webb is going to crack open a massive run thanks to a borderline holding no-call, and Muschamp will collapse into a red-hot puddle of tears and bile on Thursday. It’s gonna take forever to clean that off the field.
Conference: The ESS-EEE-CEE. Formerly the Metro Conference. Then formerly independent. Then formerly of the ACC. Then formerly of the Southern Conference. And somehow, this is the team the SEC got and not Clemson.
All-time vs. Vanderbilt: 21-4.
In the Last 10 Years vs. Vanderbilt: 8-2. James Franklin went 0-3 against the Gamecocks in three seasons in Nashville. Now’s your chance, Derek Mason.
The Last Time We Saw These Guys: South Carolina did its damnedest to give last year’s game away, but they didn’t count on Johnny McCrary’s preternatural ability to give the ball away. With the Commodores trailing by six points, McCrary ended three straight drives with a turnover, leading to this gem of a box score:
Eeeesh. Six first downs and five turnovers in the game’s final 18+ minutes. That’s the kind of document they give to rookie police officers to prepare them for especially gruesome crime scenes.
Is Vandy Favored?: YES. By 4.5 points. Which is also Thursday’s over/under.
Most Potent Offensive Threat: Pass.
You can’t pass. Neither can South Carolina.
Fine. Lorenzo Nunez ran for 423 yards last season as a wily quarterback. On Thursday, we’ll get to see what he can do when Will Muschamp commands him to run directly into his blockers’ twice a possession. RB David Williams was a bang-up recruit back in 2013, but he spent 2015 running for just 3.5 yards per carry. He’s gonna spend his evening getting more face time with Zach Cunningham than his long distance girlfriend.
Also, Perry Orth is back and might take snaps at quarterback, though he doesn’t appear to be in great game shape yet.
Most Potent Defensive Threat: The Gamecocks look a lot like Vanderbilt did at this time last year — unsettled quarterback position, a million questions on offense, and a stout defense led by a legitimately brilliant defensive mind. Not having Skai Moore (neck injury) on the field hurts, but last year’s sack leader Darius English is back and has the speed and power to disrupt a still-fluctuating Vanderbilt offensive line. If he and Marquavius Lewis can make Kyle Shurmur skittish in his first start of 2016, it’s gonna be a long day for the Commodore offense.
Matchup to Watch: Vandy’s wideouts vs. the Gamecock secondary. Statistically, Kyle Shurmur wasn’t very good as a true freshman. He completed only 42.7 percent of his passes and barely threw for 100 yards per game. However, he didn’t turn the ball over in the red zone or haphazardly launch passes into traffic like a nascent Borderlands player who just found out what grenades are. That made him an upgrade.
He’ll get put to the test when he takes the reins on Thursday, and if he isn’t better than he was in 2015 this offense is in trouble. Tailback Ralph Webb will be able to take some of the pressure from his shoulders, but the biggest key to his success will be his playmakers along the sidelines and in the slot. C.J. Duncan, Trent Sherfield, and Caleb Scott need to develop into reliable contributors if Shurmur is going to have any chance of success. A steady South Carolina secondary that lacks elite playmakers is the perfect test for the Commodores’ receivers.
Interesting Fact: The No. 3 selling point on the university’s “10 Great Things About USC” says “USC won the national title in the 2010 College Baseball World Series, the 2011 College Baseball World Series and the 2010 SEC East football championship.” One of those things is very different than the others.
Bonus Fact!: Fortune tellers created such big business in the state that legislators felt it necessary to regulate them. Big government wins again. #GaryJohnson2016
If South Carolina wins, we: glare menacingly at our laptops while editing Derek Mason’s Wikipedia page to put a 2016 cap on his head coaching tenure. Does losing to the Gamecocks mean Mason’s getting fired? Nope, but it will be a great launching point for our first overreaction of the year.