Josh Kendall

Gamecocks versus Commodores hard to pick, but we’ll try

Will Muschamp doesn’t know how his team will play Thursday night. How am I supposed to?

South Carolina’s first-year head coach has been very honest when asked about what he expects from his Gamecocks when they open the season against Vanderbilt.

“It’s hard to test for game day in our league, especially on the road so I don’t know. I’ll let you know at about 10:30 on Sept. 1,” he said earlier this month, and he’s repeated something similar about a dozen times since.

And yet, here it is Aug. 31, and I’ve got to pick a winner for this game.

Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason, according to a letter he sent to the team’s fans earlier this week, has “never been more excited for what this team has to offer.” Considering the Commodores have two SEC wins in Mason’s two-year tenure, that’s a low bar for praise.

Both of these teams have some reasons for optimism and both have plenty of questions. You’ve got to hunt for reasons to like one more than the other.

These are the ones that I’ve found.

The Commodores are at home. The Gamecocks are taking one of the country’s least experienced teams, which will include at least one true freshman quarterback in the rotation somewhere, on its first road trip of the season for a conference game.

The Commodores have a third-year coaching staff. The Gamecocks have a first-year coaching staff that presumably will have to smooth out some wrinkles as it goes.

The Commodores have 15 returning starters on offense and defense, which includes their best offensive player (running back Ralph Webb) and best defensive player (Zach Cunningham) from a year ago. The Gamecocks list 10 returning starters on offense and defense and only five of them are expected to start this game. The other five (OL Alan Knott, WR Matrick Belton, S Jordan Diggs, CB Rico McWilliams and LB Skai Moore) have either lost their starting job due to injury or performance, are injured or have quit the team.

And finally, Vegas likes Vanderbilt. Or at least the betting public does so far. The Commodores are four-point favorites.

This is a huge game for both teams. It could be that the winner goes to a bowl game while a loser is staying home for the holidays.

It could go either way. I don’t know which it will. So I’m going with the home team.

Vanderbilt 24, South Carolina 21

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