South Carolina returns just 10 starters from the 2015 season including four offensive and six defensive starters. The Gamecocks, who finished with a 3-9 record which includes a 19-10 win over Vandy, also have a new head coach in Will Muschamp. Unlike the Commodores, who have been set on Kyle Shurmur as a starting quarterback since before preseason practice, the Gamecocks have a battle ensuing between Perry Orth and Brandon McIlwain. Orth quarterbacked USC to the win over Vandy last season. McIlwain is a highly touted true athletic freshman. Muschamp likely knows the starter but doesn't want to give Vandy any assistance in preparing for his Gamecocks. Redshirt freshman A.J. Turner is set to start at running back. Turner was a 4-star Scout.com prospect who missed much of his senior season in high school with an injury. The Gamecock defense should be sound with the majority of starters back and Muschamp providing input to the USC defensive coaches.
Injuries and Suspensions
South Carolina, like Vandy, has several injured players. USC lost possibly its most talented player on the team in veteran linebacker Skai Moore. Moore is of similar caliber as Vandy linebacker Zach Cunningham, both earned All-SEC honors last season. Offensive lineman Zack Bailey has missed several practices with an injury but is expected to return to play against Vandy. Bailey had five starts last season. Running back Mon Denson is expected to miss the Vanderbilt game as is linebacker Larenz Bryant. Denson is a reserve who has yet to play in a game. Bryant is a senior who played in 10 games last season with one start and had three tackles. Tight end Kyle Markway is questionable for Thursday. Markway played in all 12 games last season and finished with three catches for 57 yards. Veteran cornerback Rico McWilliams missed several practices while he returned to his home in Louisiana to support his family that was involved the disastrous flooding there. He is back in Columbia now and likely will play on Thursday. He has 18 career starts.
South Carolina has been a thorn in Vanderbilt's side since the Gamecocks joined the SEC in 1992. The Commodores are just 4-21 all-time against the Gamecocks, only one of those contests were played prior to USC joining the SEC (1961, 23-7 VU loss). In 25 games against the Gamecocks, the Commodores have managed to score 20 points or more just five times. Interestingly, they won only one of those five contests. This is a vulnerable Gamecock team but so was last year's USC squad. The 'Dores have to put together a clean, complete effort in all three phases of the game to be 1-0 after Thursday's opener.