CFN Preview: South Carolina vs. Vanderbilt

Read inside as CollegeFootballNews previews South Carolina's SEC opener against the Vanderbilt Commodores on Thursday night.

South Carolina (1-0) vs. Vanderbilt (1-0) 8:30 EST, ESPN

Why to watch: Oh sure, Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee (even after the loss to UCLA) are the big boys in the SEC East, and Kentucky showed against Louisville that it appears to be a player again in the race, but South Carolina came up with one of the first weekend's most dominant performances with a 34-0 win over NC State. This is supposed to be the best Gamecock team Steve Spurrier has fielded, and at least defensively, it showed as the Wolfpack offense was held to a mere 138 yards with just 49 coming through the air.

Meanwhile, Vanderbilt ran past a good Miami University team in Oxford with an impressive 34-13 win. Last season, South Carolina was red-hot starting the season out 6-1 going into the date with the Commodores. A 17-6 loss later, Spurrier's bunch suddenly lost its mojo and didn't win another game. Considering all the big SEC guns left on each team's slate, it's not a stretch to call this an SEC elimination game.

Why South Carolina might win: Defense, defense, defense. Vandy QB Chris Nickson was decent throwing last week, completing nine of 16 passes for 91 yards and a touchdown, but it's a whole new world this week. The Gamecocks held the three NC State quarterbacks to a combined 5-of-20 passing day for 49 yards with two interceptions. The secondary is the team's biggest strength, and if the defensive front can keep Nickson under wraps and limit the Commodore running game, it could be a long day for the Vandy offense.

Why Vanderbilt might win: South Carolina's secondary might be a strength, but the Vanderbilt defensive backs might be the best in the SEC. At the very least, this is a ball-hawking group that pounces on every mistake. South Carolina quarterbacks are prone to giving away interceptions, having major problems in off-season practices when it came to ball security, and the problems carried over into the season opener with four interceptions thrown against the Wolfpack. However...

Who to watch: The picks were thrown by Tommy Beecher, who got knocked out of the game. In came Chris Smelley, who completed all five of his throws with a touchdown pass. With Beecher having problems with his shoulder, Smelley was tabbed as the starter with Stephen Garcia the No. 2 man and Beecher an emergency option, if he's able to suit up at all. The team is desperate to find a calm, cool, consistent passer, and Smelley will have the chance to make the job his on a permanent basis.

What will happen: Defense. Expect six turnovers between the two teams and problems moving the ball on a consistent basis. The South Carolina defense will be better than the Vanderbilt defense, while the Gamecock offense will come up with a bit more balance and production in the second half.

CFN Prediction: South Carolina 23 ... Vanderbilt 10

Line: South Carolina -7.5

Must See Rating: (5 Entourage premiere - 1 One Tree Hill premiere) ... 2.5

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