1. Jadeveon Clowney The 6-foot-6 pass rusher is only a sophomore but is already the focal point of Steve Spurrier's stifling Gamecock defense which finished third in the nation last season. The reigning SEC Freshman of the Year ewas credited with eight sacks last season, forced five fumbles and is expected to be even more of a force in 2012.
According to Clowney, new defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward plans to blitz more aggressively this season and will see action at middle linebacker as well. Meanwhile, Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers has spent the weeks leading up to the Commodores season opener studying crash Toyota crash dummy tapes in preparation.
2. Year Two For James Franklin
Thursday night's matchup will also provide a glimpse into how far Vanderbilt has come in year two of the James Franklin era. Much of that will depend upon Commodores quarterback, Jordan Rodgers, who may have a familiar last name to most fans. His older brother is Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. However, Jordan and Aaron will not be starring in national Oreo commercials alongside the Williams sisters or Peyton and Eli. As pedestrian as Rodgers played last season, his play wasn't nearly as embarrassing as this offseason photo of him dressing as a Vanderbilt cheerleader. If the Commodores are going to continue trending upwards Rodgers will have to make better decisions in the passing game.
3. Marcus Lattimore
Lattimore returns to the gridiron ten months after tearing his ACL last October against Mississippi State. However, in 20 career games, the junior has gained 2015 yards rushing and 30 touchdowns. Lattimore was considered a Heisman contender before his season-ending knee injury but it remains to be seen if he can quickly return to form before the competition kicks up a notch Sept. 22 against Missouri.
4. Shaq Roland.
Thursday will also mark the debut of Vandy's star recruit Shaq Roland. Unlike his namesake, Roland is not a large possession receiver at 6-1. However, 2011's Mr. Football in South Carolina is a speedster with great leaping ability and route running skills which he has used to wow coaches (seven passes for 146 yards in three scrimmages).
5. If there's one head coaching contemporary whom Vanderbilt's James Franklin compares to it is Steve Spurrier. Since taking the helm last spring, Franklin's outrageous recruiting ploys and statements have challenged Spurrier's comedic superiority.
This summer James Franklin offered up his own brand of recruiting philosophy.
"I've been saying it for a long time, I will not hire an assistant coach until I've seen his wife," said Franklin. "If she looks the part, and she's a D-1 recruit, then you got a chance to get hired. That's part of the deal."
"If a man can convince the women of his dreams 2 marry him, he can probably do just about anything, that type of confidence along w/ coaching." Franklin added via Twitter.
Meanwhile, Steve Spurrier was his usual jocular self at SEC media day and took a shot at the defending national champions.
"It's easier to win the national championship than the SEC. Ask Nick Saban." Said Spurrier.
The game should be competitive but the most noteworthy highlights should emerge from the post-game press conference.