Thursday will mark the 22nd meeting between USC and Vandy, with USC leading the series 21-4. USC won the meeting last year 21-3 in Columbia. This will also be the 7th time USC has opened the season against an SEC opponent, including a win in Nashville back in 2004. A lot has changed since 2004, but one thing remains the same. You can not take any opponent in the SEC lightly, and that includes Vandy. Vandy will return 18 starters from last season, and this should help the Commodores improve in 2012.
Vandy Offense: The Commodores will be led by quarterback Jordan Rodgers, who started the final seven games of the season passing for 1524 yards and 12 touchdowns. Behind Rodgers will be the running back duo of Zac Stacy and Jarron Seymour. Stacy rushed for 1193 yards last year, and is the top returning rusher in the SEC. Last year, Vandy's offense averaged 26 points per game, and 339 yards per game.
X-Factor on Offense: Vandy will look to take advantage of the depth in USC's secondary with Chris Boyd and Jordan Matthews. Both Boyd (6-4) and Matthews (6-3) are both at least 4-5 inches taller than the Gamecocks starting corners. This might be a big advantage for the Dores if the o-line can give Rodgers time to throw the ball.
Vandy Defense: Vandy will return eight starters on defense but they did lose their top three tacklers from last season. Vandy gave up 22 points and 322 yards per game last year. This Vandy team will be led by defensive tackle Rob Lohr and linebacker Archibald Barnes. Barnes collected 59 tackles last year and Lohr had 5 sacks, with both players forcing three fumbles each.
X-factor of Defense: Chris Marve and Casey Hayward are gone, so the big question will be who is going to step up for Vandy and be the leader in 2012. Look for the linebacker group to follow in Marve's footsteps. Both Chase Garnham and Archibald Barnes are tall, physical linebackers and should get the job done. As for the secondary, Trey Wilson will be asked to be the shutdown corner. Whether or not he can slow down Ace Sanders tomorrow will play a big role in who wins the game.
What might happen: In a perfect world, Spurrier's offense will be balanced between running the ball, intermediate passing to the tight ends and the long ball to the speedy WR on the outside. Very rarely does this work out but with the talent on this team, it is a possibility. On the defensive side of the ball, look for USC to take the run away and make Jordan Rodgers beat them in the air. This should set up nicely for Clowney and Taylor to get ample opportunity for sacks.
Rodgers threw 10 interceptions last season, and look for Coach Ward to exploit his mistakes early. I have a feeling it will be a close game at half, with USC opening it up in the second half. Spurrier did a great job last year of making half time adjustments and I think that will continue this season.
As for Vanderbilt, James Franklin will have his team motivated to win. Just like Spurrier, Franklin is looking to change the culture of his program. For starters Vanderbilt will be debuting a new jumbo-tron this season, as well as a new berm. The Commodores will need the offensive line to step and give Jordan Rodgers time to throw the ball if they have any chance of winning this football. Last year, Vandy's offense was nonexistent against the Gamecocks.
With all that being said, fans that make the trip to Nashville will have a great trip. Remember to wear Garnet as Vanderbilt fans will be supporting a "black out." Also just a heads up, get to the game early as the Tennessee Titans have their final preseason game at the same time.
LOHD Game Prediction: USC 24 Vandy 13
South Carolina Vandy
Founded: 1801 1873
Enrollment: 30,271 6,794
Head Coach: Steve Spurrier (8th season) James Franklin (2nd season)
2011 Record 11-2 overall, 6-2 SEC 6-7overall, 2-6 SEC
Get more great South Carolina sports analysis over at Leftover Hot Dog.