Columbia, S.C. -
The 2012 South Carolina football season gets underway Thursday, August 30, when the Gamecocks travel to Nashville to take on Southeastern Conference Eastern Division rival Vanderbilt. The 7:01 p.m. ET (6:01 CT) game will be televised nationally by ESPN with Rece Davis, Jesse Palmer and David Pollack in the booth and Samantha Steele on the sidelines. Touchdown Radio has the national radio broadcast with Frank Frangie handling the play-by-play and Gino Torretta providing the color commentary.
GAME INFORMATION Date: Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012 Kickoff: 7:01 p.m. ET Location: Nashville, Tenn. Stadium: Dudley Field/Vanderbilt Stadium (39,773) Series: South Carolina leads 17-4 TV: ESPN RADIO Flagship - 107.5 FM "The Game" & the IMG Network
A LITTLE HISTORY: 2012 marks the 119th season of intercollegiate football at the University of South Carolina, dating back to 1892. It is the 106th-consecutive year in which South Carolina has competed on the gridiron. The university did not field a team in either 1893 or 1906. Carolina is 11 games over the .500 mark with an all-time record of 554-543-44. The Gamecocks were nine games under .500 until head coach Steve Spurrier took the reins in 2005, but are 20 games over since.
SEC HISTORY: The 2012 season marks South Carolina's 21st year in the Southeastern Conference. South Carolina and Arkansas joined the league prior to the 1992 campaign. The Gamecocks earned their first SEC Eastern Division title in the 2010 season.
* South Carolina is 78-36-4 (.678) in 118 season openers. The Gamecocks have won 12 consecutive season-opening games, dating back to the 2000 season. But that's not even close to the school record. The mark for consecutive season-opening wins is 19, set from 1920-1938.
* In the 26 seasons in which the Gamecocks have opened on the road, they are 8-18 for a .308 winning percentage, but have won their last three season openers on the road - at Vanderbilt in 2004, at Mississippi State in 2006 and at NC State in 2009.
* Head coach Steve Spurrier is 21-1 all-time in season openers as a collegiate head coach. His only season-opening loss, ironically, was a 27-21 loss to the South Carolina Gamecocks in Columbia on Sept. 2, 1989, while the head coach at Duke University.
* The Gamecocks are opening with a conference game for the seventh time since joining the SEC in 1992. They are 3-3 in the previous six contests, going 3-1 on the road and 0-2 at home. They opened the season with Georgia for four consecutive years, going 1-3 from 1992-'95, won at Vanderbilt in 2004 and won at Mississippi State in 2006.
8 The Gamecocks have won eight straight games and nine of their last 10 against SEC Eastern Division opponents.
A SOUTH CAROLINA WIN WOULD...
* Extend South Carolina's opening game winning streak to 13 games. The Gamecocks last season-opening loss came in the 1999 season, a 10-0 setback at NC State.
* Improve head coach Steve Spurrier's record to 22-1 all-time in season-opening games.
* Improve head coach Steve Spurrier's record over Vanderbilt to 18-2. His 17 wins against Vanderbilt trails only his 18 career victories over Kentucky in wins over any opponent.
* Give the Gamecocks 18 wins in 22 tries all-time against Vanderbilt. Carolina is 17-4 all-time against Vandy with wins in each of the last three games.
THURSDAY SPECIAL: The Gamecocks are very familiar with Thursday night games on ESPN. Since head coach Steve Spurrier took over in 2005, Carolina has played nine Thursday night ESPN contests. Carolina opened its 2005 season on a Thursday with a 24-15 win against Central Florida. In 2006, the Gamecocks opened at Mississippi State on a Thursday and pitched a 15-0 shutout. They also lost a mid-season Thursday night contest at home to Auburn. In 2007, they defeated eighth-ranked Kentucky on a Thursday by a 38-23 score. In 2008, they played the first two games of the season on Thursdays - defeating NC State 34-0 before falling at Vanderbilt, 24-17. In 2009 they opened the year with a Thursday night 7-3 win at NC State, then knocked off fourth-ranked Ole Miss on a Thursday at home by a 16-10 score. They opened the 2010 season with a convincing 41-13 win over Southern Miss on a Thursday in Columbia. Carolina is 7-2 in Thursday night tilts under Coach Spurrier, including a 5-1 record at home and a 2-1 record on the road. The Gamecocks are 5-0 in season openers on Thursdays under the HBC.
VS. VANDY: This is the 22nd all-time meeting between South Carolina and Vanderbilt, with the Gamecocks holding a 17-4 advantage, including a 9-2 record when the games have been played in Nashville and an 8-2 mark when the teams have met in Columbia. In the previous 21 outings, Vanderbilt has tallied more than 17 points just three times (24 in 2003, 28 in 2005 and 24 in 2008). Carolina won last year's meeting in Columbia, 21-3, and won the last time they met in Nashville, a 21-7 decision in 2010. The Gamecocks have won three straight in the series and 10 of the last 12. In those last three wins, Carolina has surrendered just 20 total points. Vandy's four wins have come in back-to-back fashion on two occasions - first in 1998 and `99, then again in 2007 and `08. Those four wins have been by a combined total of 22 points. The teams met just once (1961) before they became SEC Eastern Division rivals beginning in 1992, and have met every year since. Of the Division I FBS opponents against whom the Gamecocks have at least 10 all-time meetings, Carolina has its best winning percentage against Vanderbilt at .810.
HOT AUGUST NIGHT: The Gamecocks are opening their season in August for just the seventh time in school history. All seven August games have come in the past 25 years. The Gamecocks are 5-1 in games played in the month of August, including a 4-1 record at home and a 1-0 record on the road.
OPENING AWAY FROM HOME: The Gamecocks are opening their season away from home for the fourth time in the Spurrier Era. They have won all three of the previous season openers away from home under the HBC. They won at Mississippi State, 15-0, to open the 2006 campaign, won by a 7-3 count at NC State in 2009 and defeated East Carolina in Charlotte, 56-37 last year. The Gamecocks have won their last four season-opening games away from home (also a 31-6 win at Vanderbilt in 2004), with the last loss coming in 1999, a 10-0 setback at NC State.
THE LAST TIME THEY MET: The No. 12/10 Gamecocks used a dominant defensive effort to defeat the Commodores, 21-3, on Sept. 24, 2011 in Columbia. Vanderbilt garnered just 77 yards of offense (73 passing and four rushing), while committing three turnovers and surrendering six sacks. Meanwhile, Carolina gained 367 yards of offense. Marcus Lattimore rushed for 77 yards and a score and had 73 yards receiving, including a back-breaking 52-yard scoring reception with just 13 seconds remaining in the first half.
THE LAST TIME IN NASHVILLE: Brian Maddox rushed for a career-high 146 yards and the game-clinching touchdown to lead No. 19 South Carolina to a hard-fought 21-7 win over Vanderbilt in Nashville on Oct. 23, 2010. Tori Gurley had a career night with 14 catches for 112 yards, but the Gamecocks didn't put the game away until Stephen Garcia hit Alshon Jeffery on a 72-yard bomb midway through the fourth quarter. Jeffery finished with nine catches for 158 yards. Garcia finished the night by completing 31-of-39 passes for 355 yards, as Carolina outgained the `Dores, 484-250.
THE HEAD BALL COACH: Steve Spurrier begins his eighth season directing the Gamecock football program. He has logged a 55-35 mark (.611) in Columbia. Coach Spurrier needs 10 wins to become the school's all-time leader in career victories. The Head Ball Coach ranks second on the school's all-time wins list with 55 behind only Rex Enright (64) and third in games coached with 90 behind Enright (140) and Paul Dietzel (96). Spurrier owns a 197-75-2 mark (.723) in 22 seasons as a collegiate head coach, with stops at Duke and Florida before his stint at South Carolina.
TOPS IN HIS FIELD: Steve Spurrier needs just three wins to reach the 200-win plateau as a collegiate head coach. As of the end of the 2011 season, a total of 70 head college football coaches (all divisions) had reached that milestone. Coach Spurrier ranks fourth among active Division I coaches in wins, trailing only Frank Beamer, Mack Brown and Chris Ault. Coach Spurrier's 116 wins in SEC vs. SEC games ranks second only to Bear Bryant's 159.
SPURRIER VS. VANDERBILT: South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier owns a 17-2 all-time record against Vanderbilt, including a 5-2 mark as head coach at South Carolina. He was a perfect 10-0 against the Commodores while head coach at Florida from 1990-2001, and bested Vanderbilt twice in 1987 and 1988 while head coach at Duke. The only team Coach Spurrier has defeated more often than Vanderbilt in his career is Kentucky (18-1).
UNCHARTED TERRITORY: Head coach Steve Spurrier has taken the Gamecocks to six bowl games in his seven-year tenure. The Gamecocks have been bowl-eligible in all seven of his seasons in Columbia, but were not selected following the 2007 season with a 6-6 record. No other coach in Carolina history has taken the Gamecocks to more than three bowl games (Jim Carlen and Joe Morrison). Coach Spurrier is 2-4 in bowl games at South Carolina. He and Lou Holtz are the only Gamecock coaches to post two bowl victories.
COACHING SHUFFLE: The Gamecocks made wholesale changes in their coaching staff in the offseason. Gone are special teams coordinator John Butler (Penn State), running backs/tight ends coach Jay Graham (Tennessee), safeties coach Jeep Hunter (Southern Miss), assistant head coach-defense Ellis Johnson (Southern Miss), and strength coach Craig Fitzgerald (Penn State). New to the staff are linebackers/spurs coach Kirk Botkin, secondary coach Grady Brown, special teams coordinator/tight ends coach Joe Robinson, and running backs coach Everette Sands. Lorenzo Ward was promoted to take over the defense, while Joe Connolly was promoted to lead the strength & conditioning program.
IN THE POLLS: The Gamecocks have been ranked in the Associated Press Top-25 for 32 consecutive polls, dating back to the second week of the 2010 season. That is the longest consecutive streak in school history. According to research compiled by "The Blitz," South Carolina was ranked in the A.P. poll 148 times from 1936-2011, 14 times as a member of the ACC (1936-1970), 57 times as a Independent (1971-1991) and 77 times since joining the SEC (1992-2011).
THE BEST FINISH ON RECORD: The Gamecocks finished the 2011 season ranked ninth in the final Associated Press poll, the first time they have finished the season in the top 10. The Gamecocks have finished among the nation's top-25 in back-to-back years for just the second time in history, joining the 2000 and 2001 squads under Lou Holtz. Four SEC schools - Alabama, LSU, Arkansas and South Carolina - finished the 2011 season ranked among the nation's top 10.
AND NOW THE BEST START ON RECORD: The Gamecocks open the 2012 season ranked ninth in both the Associated Press and USA Today/Coaches' polls. It's the first time the Gamecocks have been ranked in the preseason top-10 in history. In both polls, five SEC teams are ranked among the nation's top 10, including LSU, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Arkansas.
THEY'RE BACK: The Gamecocks have 42 letterwinners returning to the 2012 roster. The 42 lettermen consist of 21 offensive players, 18 defensive players and three specialists.
OUT OF THEIR LEAGUE: The Gamecocks went 5-0 in non-conference action in 2011, and have been undefeated in regular season non-conference play for three consecutive years. They are 26-7 in non-conference games under head coach Steve Spurrier, including wins in 24 of their last 29 non-SEC tilts. The year-by-year breakdown: 2005 (2-2); 2006 (5-0); 2007 (3-1); 2008 (3-2); 2009 (4-1); 2010 (4-1); 2011 (5-0). They have a regular season winning streak over non-conference opponents of 12 games. South Carolina's last regular season non-conference loss came at Clemson in 2008.
GOOD HOME COOKIN': The Gamecocks have done a good job of protecting their home turf of late. The Gamecocks were 6-1 at home in 2011, the third straight year in which they won six-of-seven home contests. The only home losses in the last three years came to top-ranked Florida in 2009, to 17th-ranked Arkansas in 2010 and to defending national champion Auburn in 2011. Carolina is 20-3 in its last 23 home games.
AND NOT BAD ON THE ROAD EITHER: The Gamecocks had their school record six-game road winning streak snapped at Arkansas late in the 2011 season. Carolina finished the 2011 campaign with a 3-1 road record (wins at Georgia, Mississippi State and Tennessee, loss at Arkansas), its best road record since posting a 4-1 mark in 2006 (wins at Mississippi State, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Clemson, loss at Florida).
WINNING MORE OFTEN: The Gamecocks have posted four-straight winning seasons and a school-record eight-straight seasons of at least a .500 record, surpassing the previous mark of seven-straight seasons of .500 or better set from 1928-34. The Gamecocks went 6-5 in 2004, 7-5 in 2005, 8-5 in 2006, 6-6 in 2007, and 7-6 in both 2008 and 2009 before logging a 9-5 record in 2010 and a school-best 11-2 mark in 2011.
AN SEC SIX-PACK: The Gamecocks were 6-2 in the SEC last season, recording six SEC wins for first time in school history. They finished the 2000, 2001, 2005 and 2010 seasons with 5-3 SEC marks. The 2011 season marked the ninth time they finished with at least a .500 record in SEC play (also 4-4 in 1994, 1996, 2004 and 2008).
GAMECOCKS IN THE SEC: The Gamecocks wrapped up their 20th season of league play in the SEC with a school record six victories. They have played 160 SEC regular season contests since joining the league.
GAINING THE SWEEP: The Gamecocks posted a perfect 5-0 mark against SEC Eastern Division rivals in 2011, also a first in school history. They have won eight straight and nine of their last 10 contests within the division. They logged a 4-1 record within the division twice previously, both under Coach Spurrier, in 2005 and again in 2010.
NEW SHERIFF IN TOWN: The Gamecocks have swept the "Big Three" of the SEC East - Florida, Georgia and Tennessee - in back-to-back seasons. They had never pulled that trifecta in any season prior to 2010. From 1992-2003, Carolina was 5-34 against the "Big Three," going 4-9 against Georgia, 1-12 versus Tennessee and winless in 13 tries against Florida. Since Coach Spurrier took over in 2005, Carolina is 10-11 against those same three teams including a 6-0 mark in the past two seasons. Since 2005, they are 4-3 versus Tennessee and 3-4 against both Georgia and Florida.
ON A ROLL: The Gamecocks bring a four-game winning streak into the 2012 season. They had not finished a season with four consecutive wins since the 1958 team defeated Furman, Virginia, NC State and Wake Forest to finish a 7-3 campaign.
THE LEGACY CONTINUES: The Gamecocks roster features four players whose fathers also donned the Garnet & Black: sophomore defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles and his father, Buddy (1984-87); redshirt freshmen defensive linemen Gerald Dixon and Gerald Dixon Jr. and their father, Gerald (1990-91); and freshman Jordan Diggs and his father, Shed (1984-87).
IT'S A NUMBERS GAME: The Gamecocks return 89 percent of their rushing yards, 64 percent of their passing yards and 66 percent of their receiving yards from a year ago, In addition, eight of the squad's top 13 tacklers, return for the 2012 campaign.
BREAKING THE CENTURY MARK: The Gamecocks return three tailbacks who have rushed for 100 or more yards in a game on 14 occasions. Junior Marcus Lattimore leads the way with eight 100-yard rushing games, while senior Kenny Miles and sophomore Brandon Wilds each have three 100-yard rushing contests. In addition, quarterback Connor Shaw has one 100-yard rushing game to his credit.
SHAW AT THE HELM: Junior quarterback Connor Shaw will direct the Gamecock offense this season. The 6-1, 207-pounder from Flowery Branch, Ga. has won eight of his nine career starts, the best record after nine games of any signal-caller at Carolina in the past 40 years, just ahead of Steve Taneyhill and Blake Mitchell, both of whom logged 7-2 records after nine games. Shaw has completed 66.1 percent of his career passes for 1,671 yards and 15 touchdowns with just eight interceptions. He also has rushed 167 times for 690 yards with eight touchdowns. His completion percentage ranks first among all South Carolina quarterbacks in history (minimum 150 pass attempts).
RECEIVING CORPS: The Gamecocks lost a great one in Alshon Jeffery, the school's all-time leader in receiving yards (3,042) and touchdown receptions (23), while ranking second with 183 career receptions. While Connor Shaw will have many targets to throw to this season, the entire group would be labeled a bit unproven entering the season.
ALONG THE O-LINE: The Gamecocks' offensive line has a blend of youth and experience. Gone are starters Terrence Campbell and Rokevious Watkins, along with veteran Kyle Nunn. Senior center T.J. Johnson, a Rimington Award candidate, anchors the line. He has started every game over the past three seasons, making 40 career starts, He needs just eight starts to become the school's career-leader. Redshirt sophomore A.J. Cann has become a fixture at left guard. He started all 13 games last season as a redshirt freshman. Either true sophomore Mike Matulis (5 starts) or redshirt sophomore Cody Gibson (4 starts) will get the call at right tackle. Junior Ronald Patrick will start at right guard and redshirt freshman Brandon Shell will start at left tackle. It will be the first career start for both.
STRONGMAN COMPETITION: One of the strongest players to ever don the Garnet and Black is fifth-year senior defensive tackle Byron Jerideau. Jerideau, a 6-1, 316-pounder from Green Pond, S.C., is a beast in the weight room, logging a 670-pound squat, a 500-pound bench press and has the strength to power clean well above 300 pounds.
AND TOUGHMAN COMPETITION: There may not be a bigger hitter in the SEC than senior safety D.J. Swearinger. The Greenwood, S.C. native has logged 165 career tackles while making 21 starts during his Carolina career. He owns four interceptions.
PICK THIS: The Gamecocks logged 19 interceptions during the 2011 season with two going for "pick-sixes" (Antonio Allen at Georgia and Devin Taylor at Arkansas). They fell just short of the school record for interceptions in a season (23), set in 1981 and matched in 1984 and again in 1987.
SENIOR `BACKERS: New linebackers coach Kirk Botkin is blessed with a group of experienced players. The two-deep at the Mike, Will and Spur positions features five seniors who have combined for 14 varsity letters. Reginald Bowens (8 starts) and Damario Jeffery (4 starts) handle the Mike position; Shaq Wilson (20 starts) and Quin Smith (4 starts) man the Will position; and DeVonte Holloman (22 starts) gets the call at the Spur position.
THEY PAY TO SEE THE GAMECOCKS PLAY: The Gamecocks averaged 79,131 in their seven home games in the 2011 season, ranking 16th in the country.
WORKING OVERTIME: The Gamecocks have played just two overtime games in their history, both at Tennessee. They dropped a 23-20 decision in Knoxville on Sept. 27, 2003, then fell by a 27-24 score on Oct. 27, 2007, at Neyland Stadium. Every other SEC team has played at least four overtime games since the rule was established in 1996.
PERMANENT OPPONENT: After having the Arkansas Razorbacks serve as South Carolina's "permanent" Western Division opponent since joining the SEC in 1992, the Gamecocks will be paired with a new "permanent" opponent beginning with the 2013 season. Carolina and Texas A&M have been paired up, as the conference will use a 6-1-1 format for future conference scheduling. Arkansas will be paired with the Missouri Tigers, while the rest of the league will keep their traditional cross-division rivals.
SEC BOWL AGREEMENTS: The Southeastern Conference has agreements to send 10 of its member institutions to postseason bowl games following the 2012 season. The winner of the SEC Championship Game will automatically participate in the Bowl Championship Series comprised of the Sugar, Rose, Orange and Fiesta Bowls. The Capital One Bowl has the second selection, making its pick following the BCS selections. The bowl must select the team with the next best overall record or a team that is within one win of the team with the next best overall record. The AT&T Cotton and the Outback Bowls share the third and fourth selections from the SEC. The Cotton Bowl has the first preference of teams from the Western Division and the Outback Bowl has first preference of teams from the Eastern Division. The Cotton or Outback Bowl can select teams outside of its divisional preference, but must not select them before the opposite bowl selects from its divisional preference. The Chick-fil-A Bowl has the fifth selection of preference from the SEC. The Gator Bowl has the sixth selection and the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl has the seventh pick from the SEC. The AutoZone Liberty and BBVA Compass Bowls share the eighth and ninth selections and the AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl has the 10th selection.
UP NEXT: The Gamecocks will open the home portion of their schedule on Saturday, September 8, when they host the East Carolina Pirates at Williams-Brice Stadium. Game time is set for 12:21 p.m. on the SEC Network. The Gamecocks lead the all-time series against East Carolina, holding an 11-5 advantage, including an 8-4 mark in Columbia. The teams met last season for the first time since 1999, with the Gamecocks outscoring the Pirates, 56-37, in the season opener, which was played on a neutral field in Charlotte.