South Carolina Gamecocks at Vanderbilt Commodores, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
When South Carolina and Vanderbilt play tonight, each team will be contending as much with history as with the other team.
The last time South Carolina traveled to Nashville for its SEC opener was in 2008. Hope was high for South Carolina and Steve Spurrier, but the Gamecocks lost the game and ended up with one of their typical 7-5 type of regular seasons that raised more questions about whether Spurrier's work at South Carolina could ever truly be complete. (If you ever want to see how I write when I'm in full rant mode, here's that wrap-up at Garnet And Black Attack.)
For its part, Vanderbilt has never had back-to-back bowl seasons. And a win against South Carolina, given the other games on Vanderbilt's schedule, would almost certainly mean a second consecutive trip to the postseason. The only question would be the destination.
But there are a different set of obstacles for both teams. For South Carolina the obstacle is largely psychological: Can they can get past the hurdle that the Commodores have posed to the Gamecocks for several years? Even as good as Vanderbilt has gotten in recent years, South Carolina should have enough talent to take care of Vanderbilt.
For Vanderbilt, on the other hand, the Commodores are still at a talent disadvantage -- relative both to South Carolina and the rest of the SEC -- though James Franklin (VU) is certainly en route to turning that around. It will be difficult for them to compete level to level with a South Carolina team or any other SEC East power for at least another year or two. If Vanderbilt wins this game, it will still be upset, and it will mark a signature win for Franklin.
And that is what this game boils down to. Vanderbilt is getting better, but South Carolina is also at least as good as last year's team, and that will decide things for now. But in another season or two, a simple edge on talent might not be enough.
South Carolina 24, Vanderbilt 20