Kickoff: Thursday, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Spread: South Carolina by 6.5
Watchability: Vanderbilt’s rise makes this an intriguing SEC opener. Plus, it’s the first chance to see South Carolina running back and All-SEC leading vote-getter Marcus Lattimore play since he tore his ACL last October.
Shining stars: South Carolina: DE Jadeveon Clowney. As a freshman he terrorized offenses (8 sacks, 5 forced fumbles) without fully grasping the playbook. Now the Gamecocks will really exploit his rare talent. Clowney (6-6, 256) could line up anywhere on the defensive front or at middle linebacker, according to coach Steve Spurrer. Vanderbilt: RB Zac Stacy. The 5-foot-9, 210-pound senior plowed through defenses for 1,193 rushing yards and 14 TDs last season. His 5.9 yards-per-carry average led SEC backs with 200 or more carries. If he can move the chains Thursday, Vanderbilt could pull the upset.
Who could steal the show: South Carolina: WR Shaq Roland. The Gamecocks’ top signee is listed as the third receiver, but the Parade All-American has looked great in camp and will get on the field plenty. Roland (6-1, 173) might even make fans forget about Alshon Jeffery. Vanderbilt: QB Jordan Rodgers. With seven starts under his belt, the younger brother of Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers enters 2012 in command of the offense. He’s shown he can burn a good defense, like he did when he threw for 297 yards and two TDs against Florida last season. Look for Rodgers (420 rushing yards last year) to escape the pocket and hit Jordan Matthews downfield.
You going? Ranking the road trip: The Commodores haven’t sold out Vanderbilt Stadium (capacity 40,350) since Tim Tebow and then-No. 5 Florida arrived in 2008. It’s the rare SEC venue where you can walk up and buy a ticket. Still, with a Top 10 opponent in town, a good crowd will turn out to see if Vandy has turned the corner. Before the game, tour the Grand Ole Opry, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum or dozens of other Music City attractions.
Magic number for South Carolina: 21. Spurrier is 21-1 in season openers as a college head coach. Ironically, his only loss came when his Duke team lost 27-21 to South Carolina in 1989.
Magic number for Vanderbilt: 19. James Franklin's improving Commodores came within one score of beating Georgia, Florida, Arkansas and Tennesee last season, losing by a combined 19 points. Here’s their chance for a statement win.
The game comes down to: South Carolina’s defense owned last year’s matchup, holding Vandy to 77 yards and five first downs in a 21-3 win. When the pocket breaks down, as it inevitably will with Clowney and DE Devin Taylor (15.5 career sacks) rushing, Rodgers must extend plays and avoid turnovers. There's a lot less pressure on Gamecocks QB Connor Shaw, who is 8-1 as a starter.
Prediction: South Carolina 31, Vanderbilt 20
For more up-to-the-minute news and analysis from SEC bloggers Daniel Lewis and Larry Hartstein, follow @CBSSportsSEC.