Reasons to believe: Vanderbilt at South Carolina

It’s back to serious competition for Vanderbilt on Saturday.

Following the next best thing to an open date (a 38-3 cruise control victory over Austin Peay), the Commodores dive back into Southeastern Conference play with a trip to South Carolina (6 p.m., ESPN).

Vanderbilt actually won back-to-back games in the series in 2007 and 2008. A victory this time would be a significant step for a program that for the last two years has feasted against the bottom half of the SEC but fallen short – sometimes in heartbreaking fashion – against the top teams.

Three reasons to believe the Commodores will succeed Saturday:

• They’re good enough: No, they’re not a top 10 or even a top 25 team (not at the moment, at least) but they have the ability and the experience to play with those types of programs. Last year’s loss to South Carolina was by four points and the one to Florida included some major momentum swings each way. Once they get a victory in a game such as this, the next one will come much easier.

• Big play potential: The longest reception of Jordan Matthews’ career is 78 yards, in last year’s game against South Carolina. That was a short throw and a long run. Still, there is no doubt about his ability to go deep and in Austyn Carta-Samuels he has a quarterback who is better equipped to get the ball down the field to him. This is the type of game that might be decided by one big play and the Commodores’ offense might just be the group to make it.

No ‘Swearing’er: Many Vanderbilt fans were cursing the officials – and rightfully so – after South Carolina safety D.J. Swearinger got away with pass interference at a key moment late in last year’s 17-13 loss at Vanderbilt Stadium. Swearinger is now in the NFL so at least no one has to worry that he might get away with something this time.

Three reasons to believe the Commodores will struggle Saturday:

• No offense: Vanderbilt has scored just 23 points total in its last three games against South Carolina. It has scored more than that in a single game at least once in the last three years against every other SEC East opponent except Florida, and it had as many as 21 against Florida. As much well-deserved credit as Steve Spurrier gets for his offensive acumen, he puts some pretty good defenses on the field too.

Clowning around: Jadeveon Clowney’s Heisman Trophy hopes might have taken a hit through the first two weeks of the season but that does not diminish the fact that he is as good a player as there is anywhere in college football. The Commodores can’t ignore him and the same is often true of those who put together highlight reels.

• Get going: In their season-opening victory against North Carolina, the Gamecocks showed something the Commodores have not: the ability to start fast. They led 17-0 after the first quarter that day and ultimately won by 17. Vanderbilt has three first-quarter points in its first two games combined. An early deficit on the road against this opponent will be particularly tough to overcome.