On Thursday night, the South Carolina Gamecocks will open up the college football season against the Vanderbilt Commodores in Nashville.
If Gamecock fans are ecstatic to see football return after a seven month layoff, imagine how excited USC junior tailback Marcus Lattimore is to be back on the field after 10 months of rehabilitation.
As many of you know, Lattimore went down with a torn ACL October 15th of last season in a game against Mississippi State. Even after missing half of last season, Lattimore is still considered a top-ten Heisman candidate going into 2012, according to ESPN.
The return of Lattimore isn’t the only good news heading into the season opener. Spurrier finally has a quarterback that he likes, something that happens very rarely under the ‘Ole Ball Coach. Junior Connor Shaw is being counted on to build upong last season, where he threw for 1,448 yards, 14 touchdowns and just six interceptions in ten games played. In addition, the Georgia native rushed for 525 yards and five touchdowns.
Lattimore and Shaw have started one game together during their careers at USC, a 54-3 demolition of Kentucky last season. In that game, the two led the Gamecocks to 639 yards of total offense. Barring injury, they will have the whole 2012 season together.
The one area of concern for head coach Steve Spurrier heading into the season opener is the halfback position. Over the last couple of weeks the Gamecocks have lost both Brandon Wilds and Shon Carson, however, there isn’t major reason for concern with Lattimore, fifth-year senior Kenny Miles and true freshman Mike Davis all available.
Alshon Jeffery will no longer be outjumping defenders for the ball. Jeffrey departed for the NFL last spring and will be suiting up for the Chicago Bears this fall. Junior Ace Sanders, who has had an impressive spring and summer, returns to take over the No. 1 spot and No. 1 jersey. Highly touted true freshman wideout, Shaq Roland, is expected to make an impact right away.
On the other side of the ball, the Gamecocks lost defensive back Stephon Gilmore, SPUR Antonio Allen, defensive end Melvin Ingram, and defensive tackle Travian Robertson to the NFL. Despite the losses, plenty of experience returns on the defensive side of the ball for the Gamecocks. Three seniors are slated to take over the three linebacker positions, good news since two first-time starters will be taking over the defensive back positions. Add in the returns of Devin Taylor and Jadeveon Clowney, two of the more premier defensive ends in the country, and the unit is shaping up to be just fine.
As for the game itself, the Gamecocks will be facing a much improved Vanderbilt team that made it to a bowl game last season. The Commodores return most of their starters and coach James Franklin has the program on the rise. In last seasons matchup between the two teams, USC dominated Vandy on defense, holding the Commodores to under a 100 yards of total offense in the 21-3 victory.
Prediction: With all that said, expect Vandy to put up a tough fight against the Gamecocks. Playing on their home field in front of millions of viewers, the Commodores will give it everything they’ve got. However, Taylor and Clowney will disrupt Vandy quarterback Jordan Rodgers (brother of the Green Bay Packers Aaron Rodgers) and limit the run game.
On offense, Lattimore will run for over 100 yards in his return back and Shaw will play fairly mistake-free ball.
South Carolina 28 – Vanderbilt 17