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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, August 29, 2012 at 9:32 PM

The first big TV game of the year Thursday Night is actually the first big CONFERENCE game of the year. South Carolina, ranked 9th in the AP poll heading into the new season, visits SEC East cohort Vanderbilt in a game to be nationally televised by ESPN.

South Carolina definitely has its eyes on the SEC East title again this year. They represented the division two years ago in a title tilt loss to eventual national champion Auburn. Carolina was basically dead even by many measures with last year’s Eastern champ Georgia, who was routed by LSU. The goal this year is to get back to the SEC championship game…then show that the East can at least be competitive with the West!

We’ll run some key numbers for you in this game in just a moment. We wanted to let you know first that we’ll be running stat previews for marquee TV matchups every day over the next five here in the NOTEBOOK

Thursday: South Carolina at Vanderbilt on ESPN

Friday: Boise State at Michigan State on ESPN

Saturday: Alabama vs. Michigan (from Dallas) on ABC

Sunday: SMU at Baylor on Fox Sports Net

Monday: Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech on ESPN

Okay, SMU/Baylor isn’t exactly a blockbuster. But, SMU has the chance to become a big story this year with former Texas Longhorn quarterback Garrett Gilbert, while Baylor’s attempts to recover from the loss of Robert Griffin III will become an important handicapping story on its own for game analysts.

The fun starts TONIGHT…and it’s been a longtime coming. Thank goodness college football is BACK! Let’s run through some important information about South Carolina/Vandy.



Las Vegas Spread: South Carolina by 7, total of 46

First, the market says Carolina is about 10 points better on a neutral field. Home field advantage is generally work about 3 points in college football (more in non-conference matchups with hosts who like to run up the score, but arguably less in competitive conference games where both teams are fired up). Be sure you’re personal Power Ratings are in the neighborhood of that. Many part-time handicappers are pretty good with the top 25-35 teams, but start tossing out guesses below that. The market is telling you that Vandy should be about 9-11 points worse than SC in your Power Ratings. Oh, that total of 46 suggests a relatively defensive game. Remember, this is the colleges, where scoring can blow up because there are so many more plays thanks to clock stoppages.



South Carolina 21, Vanderbilt 3

We see a very low scoring defensive battle last year. Vanderbilt could only manage a field goal. Carolina didn’t exactly explode themselves…though what they did put on the board was enough to coast to a comfortable victory. Remember that if you’re thinking about the home dog tonight. Even if you like Vandy to slow down SC’s offense, you’ll need Vandy to get on the board to cover a single digit spread.



South Carolina: 9th

Vanderbilt: unranked

The Vanderbilt coach was talking tough this week about his program eventually earning its way into the rankings. It’s tough for these academic programs to pull that off consistently unless a QB like Andrew Luck falls from the sky. Vandy looks to be trending in the right direction. Don’t be under any illusions that the talent or depth is there right now to rank in a legitimate Top 25 (it’s possible to temporarily sleaze your way into the Top 25 with an easy early schedule, which Vandy did in recent history).



South Carolina: 10th

Vanderbilt: 41st

This is a realistic view in our opinion. South Carolina is solid, but below the run of teams who you would consider as national championship frontrunners. Vanderbilt can hang tough with people, but will get caught napping by lesser teams probably once or twice. We don’t have Vandy quite so high in our own proprietary numbers. But, we recognize that it’s the kind of team that will play to a level around 30 when they’re fresh and motivated. That’s certainly the case Thursday Night.



South Carolina: Steve Spurrier

Vanderbilt: James Franklin

Spurrier still gets a lot of love from ESPN’s studio guys and game announcers because of his colorful past. It’s important that YOU realize that he’s basically turned into a defensive-minded coach who doesn’t know how to run an offense any more. You’ll see that a bit in the rankings. His offenses are inconsistent, and often sloppy. But, he really learned a lot about defense when he was in the NFL with the Redskins, and applied that knowledge well when he returned to the SEC. Franklin is trying to make a name for himself, which makes him an important man to watch in important TV games.



South Carolina: Connor Shaw

Vanderbilt: Jordan Rodgers

Both guys have experience. Both guys can give fans heart attacks by alternating big plays with bonehead choices. We’ll give the edge to Shaw…but that’s largely because he has a more dynamic supporting cast. There will be many games this weekend where differences at quarterback will loom very large. Here the position kind of cancels out.



S. Carolina: Returns 6 starters from the 74th ranked offense

Vanderbilt: Returns 6 starters from the 98th ranked offense

Not much to get excited about there. Yes, there are some very good defenses in the SEC, which makes it hard to post big numbers. But, Arkansas finds a way to do it. Auburn did when they had Cam Newton. Both offenses were a disappointment last year, and lost almost half their starters.



S. Carolina: Returns 6 starters from the 3rd ranked defense

Vanderbilt: Returns 7 starters from the 18th ranked defense

As we discussed during our SEC previews last weekend…the yardage stats in this conference tend to make many defenses look better than they are. We’re not saying Alabama or LSU are overrated. But, down the pack…there are a lot of teams that are conservative with the ball while running clock. When BOTH teams have that mindset in a game, it creates a low scoring game that seems like a battle of defensive juggernauts. Play five or six games like that…and your team looks more menacing in the stats than they are in real life. Vandy wasn’t really a top 20 defense last year…which would have been more clear if they played potent offenses in another conference. South Carolina wasn’t a clone of LSU and Alabama either. Respect what’s here…but remember to think about playing styles and clock maintenance when you evaluate scoring potential, and what happens vs. other types of opponents.



Given all of that data, we’re probably looking at a smashmouth game where the team that screws up least on offense comes away with a win. If there’s a big difference in execution or a special teams score thrown in, then we have a double digit cover. The numbers are pointing in the direction  of an Under given last year’s meeting, these particular coaches, last year’s defensive rankings, and the relative inexperience of mediocre offenses. Vegas has anticipated this to a degree with an Over/Under in the 40’s. Did they get it right?

JIM HURLEY has been studying this game for MONTHS because it you have that long to get ready for the first week of action! This matchup is likely to show up on tonight’s card for clients as a side or a total. We’re also looking at UCLA/Rice, Washington State/BYU (a late starter on ESPN), and then Minnesota/UNLV if we hear anything from our Vegas sources.

Selections will be up by early afternoon for Thursday football (probably something on the final night of NFL exhibition action as well!). Make a few clicks and have your credit card handy. Or, get the most bang for your buck by signing up for the full season. You can do that here at the website or by calling us in the office at 1-800-323-4453. Be sure to ask about pennant race baseball when you call

We’ve been waiting since last January for college football to return. IT’S FINALLY HERE! An SEC showdown in the BCS Championship game naturally leads to an SEC showdown to kick off the new campaign. You’re going to play these TV games tonight. WATCH AND WIN WITH JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!

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