When the college football season kicks off today, there will be 17 matchups, only one of which includes a ranked team. That one team will be the University of South Carolina Gamecocks, who reside at the No. 9 spot in the polls.

USC will head to Vanderbilt to face a Commodores team that played in the Liberty Bowl last year, and not too long ago was a thorn in the Gamecocks’ side. Vandy beat USC in both 2007 and 2008, the former of which knocked the team from their then-top-10 ranking.

Local fans are also gearing up for the season, with some choosing to make the trek to Tennessee to see the Gamecocks’ opener.

“I’ve been going to every game since ’84,” said Chris Fulmer, president of the Aiken County Gamecock Club. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s a home game, road game or bowl game, I’m there.”

Fulmer, along with the rest of the Gamecocks Club, recently hosted their annual Aiken County kickoff party. It was a major success, gathering more than 200 people. Fulmer estimates that it is the largest they have had in more than 10 years and it could have possibly been its biggest ever.

“You could see and feel the excitement of everyone who loves USC football,” he said. “Everyone had the garnet and black on.”

Fulmer’s group, The Ultimate Tailgaters, have been going to games since ’94. Though the whole group won’t make the trek to Vanderbilt, Fulmer expects that, combined with some baseball tailgaters they meet along the way, they will have roughly 18-20 fans present.

“All of the tickets up in Columbia were sold, so we know we’re going to definitely travel well.”

Other local fans are also getting in on the festivities.

“I’m going to fly into Nashville and meet a friend of mine from Pittsburgh,” said Becky Johnson, a lifetime Gamecock fan. “I try to make two or three road games a year, and I especially love Nashville and Kentucky.”

This year’s expectations are some of the highest in Gamecock history. The team is coming off two of the most successful seasons in school history and they will also get star running back Marcus Lattimore.

“This season really has people excited,” Fulmer said. “There hasn’t been a buzz around this team since the back-to-back Outback Bowl wins in 2000 and 2001. I’d say it’s even bigger than the ’84 and ’85 seasons.”

As far as the game is concerned, Fulmer feels confident about USC’s chances.

“I don’t think we’ll have to sweat this one out,” he said. “I think it should be one of those 34-17 or 27-10 type games. The team just needs to play to what they’re capable of and they should pull away in the second half and keep the Vandy fans from getting involved.”

Scott Rodgers is a graduate of Alvernia University and a staff writer at the Aiken Standard.