COLUMBIA - South Carolina's first road trip of the season is a manageable one.
The Gamecocks will travel to Vanderbilt on Sept. 20. In the wake of former coach James Franklin's departure for the greener pastures of Penn State, the Commodores are a program in transition.
South Carolina will be expected to roll over Vanderbilt, but it can't take the Commodores lightly. Here is the ultimate trap game, a mundane road trip sandwiched between home kickoffs against Georgia and Missouri - two of the leading divisional contenders this season. Nothing could sour what should be a strong start to the season more than a shocking road loss in Nashville.
Here's what you should expect from Vanderbilt in the post-Franklin era.
Coach: Derek Mason (first season)
Returning starters: 10 (seven offense, three defense)
2013 record: 9-4, 4-4 SEC; fourth place SEC East
Scoring offense: 30.1 points per game (57th in country)
Scoring defense: 24.6 points against per game (46th in country)
Series: South Carolina leads 19-4
Last meeting: South Carolina beat Vanderbilt 35-25 last season. It was a peculiar game, with the Gamecocks blowing out the Commodores from the gate, scoring the game's first 28 points. Their 28-0 second-quarter lead quickly shrunk. Vanderbilt came storming back in the second half, driving with a chance to pull within a field goal in the fourth quarterback before cornerback Jimmy Legree's goal line interception. Vanderbilt would never threaten again.
Golden Nuggett line: N/A
Three things to know about Vanderbilt
1. Meet Mason: In the big picture, James Franklin falls well short of "legendary" status. Still, he's unquestionably the greatest coach in Vanderbilt's lengthy football history, and it's never easy to replace someone who has earned that distinction. That will be Derek Mason's challenge as he begins his first season in Nashville. Mason, formerly the defensive coordinator at Stanford, brings a toughness to Vanderbilt that should fit nicely in the SEC. With youth and inexperience on defense, the Commodores will need Mason's defensive edge. Still, Franklin led Vandy to unprecedented success. Need proof? The Commodores finished ahead of Florida in the SEC East standings least fall. Now, the bar has been raised. Mason must meet higher expectations.
2. Quarterback battle: Austyn Carta-Samuels was far from one of the SEC's elite quarterback last fall, but the departed senior leaves a void for a program that heavily relied on him. Sophomore Patton Robinette should be in the driver's seat to be Vandy's starting quarter this fall. He completed 46-of-88 passes for 642 yards last season. But a strong spring game from redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary put him firmly in the mix. The competition likely won't be settled until Vanderbilt is in August camp - at the earliest.
3. A breakout season: Vanderbilt's rushing game missed tailback Zac Stacey's production in 2013 after he was a fifth-round draft pick by the St. Louis Rams. The Commodores' ground game never had the same pop, dropping from the seventh-best rushing offense in the SEC in 2012 to last place in 2013. Behind junior Jerron Seymour, Vanderbilt's running game should improve this season. Seymour rushed for 716 yards on 164 carries last season and was tied for fourth in the league with 14 touchdowns. He has the ability to be a star tailback, and Vanderbilt will need him to meet expectations.
Gamecocks schedule glimpse
Week before: Georgia
Next week: Missouri
On the horizon: at Kentucky