NCAA Football – Week 1
Vanderbilt snuck up on a bunch of people last year, and the Commodores made it to a bowl game. Remember, the Commodores have typically been the SEC doormat; so last year’s 6-7 record was a major step in the right direction. The schedule gets tougher this year, and the team lost a lot of talent.
South Carolina finished 2011 with a terrific 11-2 record, which was the best season in the program’s history. Even more impressive was the fact that the Gamecocks finished that way despite losing their best player halfway through the season. Expectations are high in South Carolina this year.
Marcus Lattimore is probably the best running back in the nation when he is completely healthy. He missed South Carolina’s last six games last year, but he is expected to be 100 percent for this season. Lattimore is only a junior, but he has rushed for more than 2,000 yards in 20 career games. He is a natural in the backfield, and his work ethic is tremendous. There won’t be many teams who can stop him this season.
Connor Shaw is 8-1 as the starting quarterback for South Carolina. He won’t have Stephen Garcia competing with him this year, and he shouldn’t have to look over his shoulder at all. Shaw is a dual-threat quarterback who is still a better runner than a passer. The team will need him to air it out a little more this year to stretch the defense.
The Gamecocks defense is absolutely stacked. Jadeveon Clowney may be the best defensive end in the nation. On the other end, Devin Taylor is fifth all-time in Gamecocks history with 15 sacks. Kelcy Quarles completes the defensive front by providing a terrific run stuffer in the middle. D.J. Swearinger is a leader at the back of the defense from his safety position. There really is no apparent weakness in this defense.
Vanderbilt will start with Jordan Rodgers under center this year. Rodgers is the younger brother of Aaron Rodgers, and he was effective last year for the Commodores. Jordan is a better runner than a thrower at this point in his career. He completed only 50 percent of his passes last season. Zac Stacy and Warren Norman give the Commodores two terrific running backs. Vanderbilt should try to establish the run early and often this season. Stacy averaged 5.9 yards per carry last season. Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd are solid receivers on the outside for this team. The offensive line returns four starters from a group that was very good in 2011.
Vanderbilt’s strong defense starts with defensive tackle Rob Lohr. Lohr is a guy that he NFL scouts really like because of his ability to clog up the running lanes. Colt Nichter is another impressive starter at defensive tackle. Both of these guys are senior leaders for this unit. The loss of Chris Marve will really hurt the linebackers. Marve had 397 career tackles at Vanderbilt, and he was the defensive leader for the last few seasons. The weakness of this defense will likely be the secondary. Vanderbilt is a little thin in the secondary, and that could hurt them a lot in SEC action.
South Carolina is a much more balanced team. The Commodores will play hard, but I don’t think they can stay with the Gamecocks all game long. South Carolina’s defense should flex their muscles in this one. I expect Lattimore to have a big game as well. Look for the Gamecocks to cover the spread.
South Carolina 27 Vanderbilt 13