COLUMBIA — Vanderbilt is a relatively small school (enrollment about 12,700), with a small football stadium (capacity 39,773) and a limited history of success in that sport (five bowl game appearances).
Coming off last season’s 6-7 record and loss in the Liberty Bowl, after back-to-back 2-10 seasons, second-year coach James Franklin is trying to build enthusiasm about his program by doing things like surprising a walk-on in a team meeting with a scholarship, capturing the moment on video and posting it on YouTube.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, who is preparing for Thursday night’s opener at Vanderbilt, has coached at a school with limited tradition. From 1987-89, Spurrier was Duke’s head coach. He went 5-6, 7-3-1 and 8-4, making a bowl in the final year. Duke has one bowl trip since — 1994. Marketing a program is nice, but fans want to see success, Spurrier said.
“If you can do that, that’ll do the marketing for you,” he said. “But they have done a super job (at Vanderbilt). You’ve got to create some buzz and some hype, and they’re doing that. Certainly, (marketing) helps. Whoever plays the best is going to win the game. That doesn’t win for you. It just gives your players hope that something good can happen, and you’ve got to have hope.”
Vanderbilt is building an indoor practice facility that is expected to be completed by summer 2014 — similar to the facilities improvements USC made to invest in winning at football. On Thursday, Vanderbilt will debut a FieldTurf surface at its stadium, which replaced grass; hillside seating; and a new 50-by-72 video board, which ranks 17th in college football in square footage. For comparison, USC’s new board is 11th.
“They are trying to play football at Vanderbilt,” said Spurrier. “They really are. They have made a commitment, and that’s what you have to do to start out.”
In terms of getting more talented players, Vanderbilt’s 2013 recruiting class is ranked No. 15 by Rivals.com, one spot behind the Gamecocks’ class. Vanderbilt’s previous five classes were Nos. 29 (Franklin’s first full class), 70, 61, 71 and 90.
Freshmen could contribute
There are six true freshmen on USC’s depth chart, all in their expected roles as backups: wide receiver Shaq Roland, tight end Jerell Adams, tight end Kelvin Rainey, tailback Mike Davis, spur outside linebacker Jordan Diggs and cornerback T.J. Gurley. Most seem likely to play at some point this season.
One true freshman on the travel roster, defensive end Darius English, is an interesting case. He is a third-stringer and drew praise from his position coach, Brad Lawing, during preseason practices. English said the coaches haven’t told him yet if he will redshirt or play.
He could certainly use a redshirt year to physically develop. English, who is 6-6, came to USC weighing 214 pounds. He now weighs 225 and wants to reach 240. But he said he can play at 225 in the pass-rush packages he is included on. Among the six defensive ends in USC’s three-deep, nobody other than English is lighter than 248 pounds (second-stringer Chaz Sutton).
This and that
Thursday will mark the seventh time (and just the third time since 1995) that USC has opened a season with a Southeastern Conference game, and the sixth time the opponent is a fellow SEC East member. USC is 3-3 in openers against SEC teams, with its last such game coming in 2006 — a 15-0 win at Mississippi State.
As expected, Adam Yates is USC’s field goal kicker. But Landon Ard, who he beat for the job, will handle kickoffs. Tyler Hull will handle the first punt, Spurrier said, and he indicated that Patrick Fish might punt, too.