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Vanderbilt Commodores vs. South Carolina Gamecocks Preview: Mind Games

One team is distracted by what happened on the football field last year, the other by what happened in a criminal case that started several weeks ago

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Vanderbilt Commodores vs. South Carolina Gamecocks, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

The danger of South Carolina losing this game is real. Vanderbilt's improvement under James Franklin so far hasn't included an ability to pull the huge upset against one of the Big Three in the SEC East, and South Carolina is 31-9 over the last three seasons. But we are still just five years removed from the Commodores' two-game winning streak against the Gamecocks, so it's not like South Carolina can take this one for granted.

At the same time, they might need more than just a narrow win. The Gamecocks' dark-horse national title hopes were badly damaged and their SEC East dreams also dinged with last week's loss to Georgia. Points might not matter in the divisional standings, but they can matter a great deal to the pollsters who will decide whether to put the Gamecocks into the Top 5 at some point. And they can also matter a great deal to a team's morale, which might be the biggest danger to South Carolina's SEC chances at this point.

In short, South Carolina is going to be play their remaining seven SEC contests in the next eight games. The only "break" in that stretch besides the byes will be a game at Central Florida two weeks from today. The Gamecocks don't really have much time to pick themselves up after the Georgia loss. They have to go on a seven-game SEC winning streak to have any shot at the division, and it has to start today.

But there are plenty of distractions and emotions running throughout Vanderbilt's team as well. The rape case that has led to four team members being dismissed and fifth pleading guilty to a related charge of trying to help cover up the crime has generated the kinds of negative PR that the Commodores aren't used to dealing with. (Though it's hard to call that a "distraction" from football.) And their first SEC game was also an emotional roller-coaster of a loss, with Ole Miss edging Vanderbilt 39-35.

The Gamecocks are at home and probably the better team, either of which would be enough of an advantage with both teams facing mental hurdles. They win narrowly and hope to pick up the style points later.

South Carolina 21, Vanderbilt 14