South Carolina plays at Vanderbilt on Thursday as Will Muschamp makes his debut as the Gamecocks’ head coach.
▪ Who: South Carolina (0-0, 0-0 SEC) at Vanderbilt (0-0, 0-0)
▪ When: 8 p.m. Thursday
▪ Where: Vanderbilt Stadium (40,350) in Nashville, Tenn.
▪ Series history: South Carolina leads 21-4 and has won the last 7 games between the two
▪ USC in openers: South Carolina is 81-37-4 (.680) in 122 season openers. The Gamecocks have won 15 of their last 16 season openers dating back to 2000.
▪ TV: ESPN (Mark Jones, play by play; Rod Gilmore, analysis; and Quint Kessenich, sideline)
▪ Radio: 107.5 FM (Todd Ellis, play-by-play; Tommy Suggs, analysis; Langston Moore, sideline)
▪ Satellite radio: Sirius 84/XM 84
▪ Line: Vanderbilt by 3 1/2
▪ Weather: Partly sunny, with a daytime high near 87. 20 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms during the day. North wind 5 to 15 mph, with gusts as high as 20 mph. Clearing Thursday night with a low around 63. North northeast wind 5 to 10 mph.
Welcome, Coach Boom
The Will Muschamp Era for the Gamecocks officially kicks off Thursday night. Steve Spurrier resigned as USC’s football coach this past October after a 10-and-a-half year career in which he became the Gamecocks’ winningest all-time coach. Muschamp was Florida’s coach from 2011-2014 and was fired with a 28-21 record. He spent 2015 as Auburn’s defensive coordinator before taking over the Gamecocks. In Nashville, Derek Mason enters his third season as Vanderbilt coach and is 7-16 in his first two seasons.
Who’s the starting QB?
Muschamp said he will likely wait until right before Thursday night’s games before revealing if he’ll go with experience in senior quarterback Perry Orth or youth in freshmen Brandon McIlwain or Jake Bentley. Muschamp says two quarterbacks will play, and the odds are in the favor of those two to be Orth and McIlwain.
SEC East battle
Both squads are in a cluster of four teams projected to be fighting out of the bottom of the division, and each win will go a long way to a successful season in 2016. Some pundits are expecting Vanderbilt to make a jump to being a middle-tier SEC East program, powered by a strong defense and coaching staff with pedigree.
Since 2005, USC has played 13 Thursday night ESPN contests, posting a 10-3 record in those contests. The Gamecocks are 8-1 record when they have opened the season on a Thursday in that same time frame. That includes a 17-13 win over Vanderbilt in Nashville on August 30, 2012.
The USC roster
South Carolina’s 117-man roster consists of 19 seniors, 20 juniors, 25 sophomores, 16 redshirt freshmen and 37 true freshmen. The Gamecocks list just four seniors on the offensive side of the ball in Matrick Belton, Perry Orth, Darius Paulk and Mason Zandi. Zandi is the only one of the four to begin his collegiate career at South Carolina and the only one who came to Columbia as a scholarship player. Only Minnesota (3), Old Dominion (4), Florida (4) and Troy (4) have as few seniors on offense as do the Gamecocks.
Vanderbilt is calling for a “white-out” from its fans on Thursday, and the team is expected to wear all-white uniforms. South Carolina so far is keeping its uniform combo a secret.
Vanderbilt players to watch
1. Sophomore quarterback Kyle Shurmur, son of ex-Cleveland coach Pat Shurmur, was moved ahead of Johnny McCrary late in 2015 and completed 42.7 percent of his passes.
2. Junior running back Ralph Webb was a bell cow for the Commodores’ anemic attack, posting 1,152 rushing yards and five scores, plus 188 yards through the air.
3. Junior linebacker Zach Cunningham wasn’t only a top tackler, but a playmaker with 16 1/2 tackles for loss, 4 1/2 sacks and four forced fumbles.
South Carolina depth chart
WR – SAMUEL (Dawkins)
WR – J. SMITH (Banks)
WR – EDWARDS (Googer or Davis)
LT – ZANDI (Young)
LG – BAILEY (Knott)
C – HELMS (Knott)
RG – STANLEY (Park)
RT – PARK (Camper)
TE – HURST (Crosby)
QB – ORTH OR MCILWAIN OR BENTLEY
RB – TURNER (Da. Williams or Talley)
DE – LEWIS (Wonnum or Blackshear)
DT – GRIFFIN (Jones)
DT – STALLWORTH (Thomas)
DE – SAWYER (English)
SLB – HOLLOMAN OR MOODY
MLB – WALTON OR HOLLOMAN
WLB – ALLEN-WILLIAMS OR HOLLOMAN
CB – FENTON (Montac)
S – D. SMITH (Diggs)
S – ELDER (Montac)
CB – LAMMONS (King)
NICK – DIGGS (Fenton)
PK – FRY (Charlton)
P – KELLY (Charlton)
LS – DR. WILLIAMS (McGriff)
H – KELLY
KR – TURNER (Fenton)
PR – FENTON (Lammons)