The SEC East landscape has shifted dramatically with last week's big win for South Carolina, a 38-35 thriller over visiting Georgia that shifted the balance of power back to Columbia. With the win, powered by a strong performance by QB Dylan Thompson, the sense is that the Gamecocks are now favored to win the East.
Well, South Carolina still has six conference games to go, and one of them is this week against host Vanderbilt, who like the Gamecocks also has one conference loss on its docket (0-1, after getting smoked by Ole Miss 41-3). So technically, this conference race is still wide, wide open!
You buying that? No? OK, no. It's awfully difficult to have any optimism for Vanderbilt, who ate two massive losses against Temple (?!) and Ole Miss to start the season before needing a late rally to beat UMass, who ... is UMass. The Commodore offense has been virtually nonexistent, scoring 10 points combined against Temple and Ole Miss, and it's hard to see how this outfit wins a single SEC game this year.
How to witness
7:30 p.m. ET, Vanderbilt Stadium (Nashville, Tenn.)
Channel: SEC Network
Play-by-play: Brent Musberger
Analysis: Jesse Palmer
Sideline: Maria Taylor
Channel: Gamecock IMG Sports Network or Sirius 108/XM 190
Play-by-play: Todd Ellis
Analysis: Tommy Suggs
Sideline: Langston Moore
Rankings and records: At 2-1, South Carolina is ranked 14th in the AP Top 25 and 16th in the USA Today Coaches Poll. Vanderbilt is 1-2 and would barely crack the Top 25 of best football teams in the state of Tennessee.
Vegas: South Carolina opened as a big 20.5-point favorite, and the line has increased slightly to 21.5 points at most sports books. So if you think the Gamecocks win by three touchdowns, that is an interesting development. The over/under has held steady at 52.5, but you might still find it at 53.
Weather forecast: It'll be a beautiful night in Nashville, with temperatures hovering in the 70s under mostly clear skies.
Two things at stake
As mentioned earlier, the Gamecocks find themselves in control of the still-young SEC East race, and they'd like to stay there — and healthy — with division rival Missouri coming to town next week. And yes it is still funny that Missouri is in the SEC East. With one loss on the docket already, though, the margin for error is still slim enough that South Carolina can't afford a slip-up here.
Vanderbilt's not going to win this game — 21.5-point underdogs are 1-66 since 2003 — so let's not pretend a win's at stake for the Commodores. This is just about looking competitive on the field for once. And if Vandy fans aren't interested in moral victories, fine, but the Commodores got throttled by 38 points in their last SEC matchup, so maybe take the small signs of progress where you can get them.
One big matchup
South Carolina's defense vs. Vanderbilt's offense: The Gamecocks' defense has struggled to this point in 2014, but they'll get a chance to shine on Saturday night against one of the worst offenses in the country. Among other FBS teams, the Commodores' offense ranks thusly:
- Yards per rush, 102nd
- Yards per pass, 120th
- Third down conversion rate, 111th
- Red zone touchdown percentage, 109th
- Gains of 20 yards or more, 112th
Vandy has one of the worst SEC teams in recent memory. This should not be hard for South Carolina.