Upset Alert - Points Will Be A Plus In South Carolina vs. Vanderbilt Opener

South Carolina Gamecocks vs Vanderbilt Commodores

Wednesday, August 31, 2016 5:34 PM GMT

South Carolina begins the Will Muschamp era as underdogs, taking on Vanderbilt in Nashville on Thursday night (8 p.m. ET). Points may be at a premium in this one. Get your betting pick and info here. 

South Carolina Gamecocks
The Gamecock faithful greeted the Dec. 7 hiring of head coach Will Muschamp with mixed feelings as he takes over full-time duties for departing legend Steve Spurrier. Muschamp led a highly-talented bunch at Florida to a less-than-stellar 28-21 record in three seasons at The Swamp (2011-2014). In addition to winning over some disbelievers, he inherits a team that went 3-9 last year with few pieces to work with.

Up to eight returning starters make up the first-team, with as many as seven players expected to make the first start of their career in Nashville. Six of the new blood is on the offensive side, making up almost the entirety of the skill positions, including four-star freshman wide receiver Bryan Edwards and red-shirt frosh tailback A.J. Turner.

Muschamp will likely start Perry Orth at quarterback after the senior led the team in eight games last season, but the race under center is going down to the wire. Fans are drooling at the prospect of seeing four-star recruit Brandon McIlwain lead the spread offense. The 6-foot, 205-pound freshman is already expected to see game time in the opener. Another four-star freshman Jake Bentley isn't totally out of the running either.

Defense is where Muschamp shines, and he needs to improve a unit that allowed 27.9 points and 433.7 yards per game. The secondary particularly struggled, owning one the worst opponent completion percentages (65.7) in FBS. Senior cornerback Rico McWilliams left the team just days ago after being demoted, which leaves the unit with only four corners on scholarship. Depth is a concern in the defensive backfield.

Vanderbilt Commodores
Vanderbilt is 7-17 in two seasons under head coach Derek Mason, and the team is expected to do better with 14 starters returning to a squad that went 4-8 in 2015.

Sophomore QB Kyle Shurmur, who started five games last season, is one of seven returning first-teamers to Vanderbilt's offense. But is this a good thing? The team scored a paltry 12.3 points per game, better than only Missouri (11.7), Boston College (10.6) and Kent State (10.2). The unit should improve through experience in offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig's complex system. He fuses both spread and ground-and-pound attacks in games. Tailback Ralph Webb, who rushed for 1,100 yards in 2015, is also back.

Seven starters return on defense, led by play-making linebacker Zach Cunningham. The unit allowed a paltry 22.3 points per game last year, and particularly showed up in the clutch. Its 28.9 opponent third-down conversion rate and 72.3 percent opponent red-zone scoring mark ranked top 10 in the FBS. Expect similar numbers this season.

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Final Analysis
Teams tend to improve a lot in their third year under a coach, and Vandy should be better this season. A conference win to open the year would be a huge boost to boot. The Gamecocks come in wounded and inexperienced, going just 1-7 SU (4-4 ATS) in their last eight SEC road contests.

Both South Carolina and Vanderbilt may have issues moving the ball. Expect a low-scoring affair. The UNDER is 6-1 when Vandy takes on a conference foe at home under Mason.

Head to head, the Gamecocks are 20-4 SU in the last 24 meetings, holding Vandy to 17 points or less in all but five. They have been dogs just three times, winning two of them. Points could be huge in this one, and an outright upset wouldn't shock given the talent gap between both programs.

NCAAF Free Pick: South Carolina +4.5 with a lean to the UNDER.
Best Line Offered: at Heritage

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