South Carolina was just one of two Southeastern Conference teams — eventual national champ Alabama being the other — that defeated Vanderbilt by more than two touchdowns last year.
But last year’s 21-3 victory over the Commodores means nothing to veteran Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier. Six weeks away from South Carolina’s season opener at Vanderbilt — a nationally televised Thursday night contest on Aug. 30 — Spurrier told the huge contingency on the opening day of SEC Media Days in Birmingham on Tuesday to be weary of the Commodores.
“He’s got his guys believing at Vandy,” Spurrier said of second-year Vanderbilt coach James Franklin. “They believe they can beat everybody they play. They almost did it last year. So they are a very, very competitive, good team. Play with a lot of fire and energy, just like Coach Franklin has … I respect the job he’s done there.”
The mood was significantly different from a year ago when Franklin took in his first Media Days at the Wynfrey Hotel. For one, people now know who he is.
“I wanted to get a feel for the place,” Franklin recalled. “I walked right through Radio Row. Ended up in the mall. Walked back. Not one person said one thing to me. Things have changed a little bit since then.”
After Vanderbilt reached the Liberty Bowl and nearly upset Arkansas, Georgia and Florida, league opponents aren’t glazing over the Commodores when they look at the schedule.
But earning that “respect we thought we deserved,” as cornerback Trey Wilson put it, won’t happen overnight. The media’s preseason All-SEC squad and predicted order of finish for each division won’t be released until Thursday. The All-SEC coaches team, however, was announced last week with just two Vanderbilt players being named to the three teams — running back Zac Stacy and defensive tackle Rob Lohr.
The Commodores were one of three schools who did not have a player make the first team.
“One bowl game is not going to change what people have perceived about us for decades,” quarterback Jordan Rodgers said. “It’s going to take winning and winning on a constant level for years, but we are changing that. That’s for sure.”
Under the fiery tutelage of the 40-year-old Franklin, the Commodores aim to reach a bowl in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history. This time around, however, they won’t fly under the radar.
“They’re going to be competitive. We know that,” Spurrier said. “We know we have to play well if we’re going to have a chance to beat them in Nashville that Thursday night.”