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South Carolina at Vanderbilt

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Editor's Note: Don't miss out on Joe Nelson's weekly Thursday breakdown this fall on VegasInsider.com. Plus, check out his expert college football selections as well.
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Matchup: South Carolina at Vanderbilt
Venue: Vanderbilt Stadium, Nashville, Tennessee (FieldTurf)
Date: Thursday, August 30
Time/TV: 7:00 p.m. ET - ESPN
Line: South Carolina -6.5
Over/Under: 45

These SEC East rivals met in late September last season with both teams sitting at 3-0. South Carolina was a 15 1/2-point favorite in the game but Vanderbilt kept the game close by getting four interceptions from then South Carolina starting quarterback Stephen Garcia. The Vanderbilt defense also held running back Marcus Lattimore in check but South Carolina delivered a dominant defensive game holding the Commodores to 77 net yards and getting six sacks, winning 21-3 to narrowly cover but with overwhelming yardage advantages.

This was a bit of a changing of the guard game for both teams as Garcia was replaced by Connor Shaw late in the game and after another poor game from Garcia the following week in a loss at home vs. Auburn, Shaw took over the starting role the rest of the season. Now a junior, Shaw will be the firm starter this season for the Gamecocks although he will be without his top receiver from 2011, as Alshon Jeffery is now lining up for the Chicago Bears.

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Vanderbilt also made a QB change in this game last season as Jordan Rodgers, younger brother of the reigning NFL MVP (Aaron), took over after senior Larry Smith was knocked out of the game in the third quarter. Smith and Rodgers split time the next two weeks as Vanderbilt fell from 3-0 to 3-3 with losses to Alabama and Georgia following up the loss to South Carolina. Smith only got token appearances the rest of the season until the bowl game as Rodgers proved to be a capable leader, taking Vanderbilt to the postseason after a 6-6 regular season. Rodgers in his senior season brings some optimism for a Vanderbilt team that returns a great deal of experience on both sides of the ball.

Coming off an 11-2 season, the expectations remain very high for South Carolina but there are just eleven returning starters on this team. The strength of the team should lie in the trenches as the defensive line should be one of the best units in the conference if not the nation and while the offensive line is younger this season, it should be a solid unit. Lattimore is back from injury for his junior season as he looks to get back to the huge 2010 numbers he posted before going down to the knee setback. The receiving corps won't be as explosive without Jeffery but Shaw could have a more efficient season in the passing game. The one area of concern for this team may be in the secondary where there is not much experience after losing 1st round NFL pick Stephon Gilmore.

Vanderbilt was certainly not expected to be a bowl team last season but getting big wins early in the year over Connecticut and Mississippi made it possible. None of the six wins came against teams that had winning records but Vanderbilt was very competitive in several SEC games, losing by five to Georgia (28-33), by three to Arkansas (28-31), by five to Florida (21-26), and by six (21-27) in overtime to Tennessee.

This year the schedule is tougher and for a team that is 3-13 on the road the last three seasons it will take more than one road win to approach bowl eligibility this year. Injuries have taken an early toll as versatile RB Zac Stacy and tight end Austin Monahan have been limited in recent practices but last season proved to this team that they could compete in the SEC.

Historically South Carolina has dominated this series, going 16-4 straight up and 13-6-1 against the spread as these teams have met every year since 1992. Vanderbilt last won (24-17) in 2008 and the Commodores are actually 5-4-1 ATS in the last 10 meetings. Only twice in the last four years has South Carolina been this steep of a road favorite, both of those instances coming in the last two trips to Nashville with the Gamecocks being upset in 2008 and winning 21-7 as 12-point in 2010. Vanderbilt was 3-0 ATS as a home underdog last season but is just 10-17 ATS and 3-24 SU as home underdogs since 2004. The 2008 win in this matchup as +9.5 underdogs is the only instance since 1998 when Vanderbilt has won outright as a home underdog of a touchdown or more.

This spread opened South Carolina as a 6 ½-point favorite with limited availability back in early August but moved to 7 shortly thereafter. It briefly hit 7 ½ at some outlets in mid-August but was mainly solid at -7 until recently dropping to -6 1/2 at many outlets this week.

The total opened at 46 1/2 before falling down to 45 in the last few days. Money-line pricing opened South Carolina around minus-270 (Bet $270 to win $100) and is now priced at around -300 at most outlets. The halftime line can mainly be found at -4 with the total hovering around 23 points.

Other Games of Betting Interest

Central Florida (-23.5) at Akron: Terry Bowden returns to the sidelines but it should be a difficult debut with a loaded UCF squad visiting. Bowden's glowing career record of 47-17-1 will likely take a big hit inheriting a Zips team that went 1-11 in 2011. The Knights were among the favorites in Conference USA but a postseason ban for NCAA infractions has put a damper on the season although this is a deep, experienced team that will be gunning for a much bigger Ohio (Buckeyes) school next week. Noteworthy Trend: Akron is 4-9 ATS the last 13 games as a home underdog.

Eastern Michigan (+3.5) at Ball State: This was a wildly entertaining game last season (for the 3,288 in attendance) and this will be a critical game in the MAC standings as both of these teams went 6-6 in 2011 and have sights set on a bowl bid. Ball State won 33-31 last year trading late field goals and that dramatic finish followed a 41-38 overtime win for Eastern Michigan in 2010. Both teams have veteran quarterbacks leading experienced offenses but there are questions on defense. Noteworthy Trend: Ball State is 1-7 ATS as a home favorite since 2009.

Texas A&M (-7.5) vs. Louisiana Tech (Shreveport): - Game Postponed due to Hurricane Issac (Makeup set for Oct. 13)

Massachusetts (+24.5) at Connecticut: The Minutemen debut at the FBS level and it could be a tough transition year with limited experience on offense and a redshirt freshman starting at QB. The first season for Paul Pasqualoni at Connecticut saw the school end of a four-year bowl run for the Huskies but this should be a greatly improved team that could emerge as a sleeper in the wide open Big East. Noteworthy Trend: Connecticut is 13-6-2 ATS as a double-digit favorite since 2003.

UCLA (-16) at Rice: Former Falcons and Seahawks coach Jim Mora takes over at UCLA and while the Bruins face a typical difficult schedule this is a veteran team that has underachieved in recent years, in part due to injuries. Opening on the road is never easy and Rice was 4-1 SU at home last season, which included a win over Purdue. The Owls don't have a lot of experience this season so expectations should be grounded in the Houston area. Noteworthy Trend: Rice is 29-14-1 ATS as a home underdog since 1996.

Washington State (+12.5) at BYU: Mike Leach taking over at Washington State steals the headlines in this matchup but BYU is coming off a 10-3 season and the Cougars now have five seasons with at least 10 wins in the last six years. The schedule is a bit tougher this season including four challenging road games and this is one of three games vs. the Pac-12 this season. Making radical scheme changes is not typically a formula for instant success but Washington State is coming off an encouraging season, and if nothing else will be more interesting this year. Noteworthy Trend: Washington State is 8-2 ATS in the last 10 games as double-digit underdog.

Minnesota (-8.5) at UNLV: It is only the second season for Jerry Kill at Minnesota but the confidence of the fan base was shaken in the first season with losses to New Mexico State and North Dakota State. The Gophers did play USC very tough and beat Iowa and Illinois late in the season and MarQueis Gray returns as the tall athletic signal-caller. UNLV is 4-21 the last two seasons but the Rebels have been a respectable performer in home games with a 6-2-1 ATS mark as a home 'dog and the offense has returning starters on the entire offensive line. Noteworthy Trend: UNLV is 19-10 ATS as a home underdog since 2003.

  
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