Let's get one thing straight: South Carolina and Vanderbilt aren't great teams. In fact, neither is very good.
But on college football's official opening night, one coach exhaled a powerful sense of relief and joy, while the other slinked off his own field with the same disappointing feeling he had too many times last year.
Right now, Will Muschamp is soaring after South Carolina's 13-10 comeback win over Vanderbilt. At the same time, Derek Mason is left searching for answers for a team that was supposed to be different, but ended up faltering in the same fashion of the same ol' Vandy after leading a shaky Gamecocks team 10-0 at the half.
"I'm extremely proud of our players," Muschamp said after his debut win as South Carolina's head coach. "Really a gutsy performance -- it didn't start pretty. ... It was a great win, so proud of our guys. We got banged around a little in the run game on defense, we got displaced in some gaps, we'll get that corrected. Just some really gutsy plays offensively and defensively as the game wore on and I'm extremely proud of this football team and I'm proud to be the head coach of South Carolina."
Hats off to Muschamp, who has been piled on for the better part of the last five years of his coaching career -- four as Florida's head coach and one as Auburn's defensive coordinator. He got off on the right foot, when so many didn't think he would. Muschamp has long stood by the stance that he's always been a good coach but didn't have enough time to properly build at Florida. His hiring at South Carolina brought a wave of skepticism, but he's 1-0 after the type of win he couldn't get at Florida.
Muschamp could sleep in today if he wanted -- though he probably didn't. His team might have found its quarterback in Perry Orth, who helped lead the second-half comeback after being benched for the more mobile freshman Brandon McIlwain. Freshman A.J. Turner might be the best option at running back; he gashed the Commodores late for 70 yards on 13 carries. Muschamp can probably scrap most of the defensive tape because, well, Vandy didn't exactly take advantage of much. But Muschamp probably knows that his defensive line is still very much a work in progress after Vandy ran for 169 yards.
But Muschamp is 1-0 and atop the SEC standings, something few thought they would see in 2016.
On the other side, things probably haven't felt this bad in Vandy's locker room since Mason's 37-7 debut loss to Temple at home in 2014. The Commodores were never in that game, and it felt like their offense was never in the second half of this clunker -- a game that they were expected to win. After what seemed like a comfortable 10-0 halftime lead because of how dominant Vandy's defense was, the offense found zero rhythm in the second half, leaving many to wonder if this was a replay of Vandy's 2015 bottom-dwelling offense.
Kyle Shurmur, the sure starter at quarterback, was mysteriously replaced by Wade Freebeck -- who missed his only attempt, yet played in consecutive drives -- after Vandy's only touchdown. Shurmur went on to complete 8 of 22 passes for 73 yards.
Vandy punted eight times and registered 14 first downs.
Mason, who promised Vandy's culture was different and that players were talking about higher internal expectations, fell flat at home in front of a dejected crowd. Mason proclaimed that "these dudes get it" when it came to preparing like winners and talking like winners, but after Elliott Fry's 55-yard field goal slipped through those Nashville uprights Thursday night, the Commodores didn't look anything like winners.
This was a win that Vandy -- and Mason -- desperately needed. The Commodores' bowl hopes were almost certainly torpedoed with Thursday's showing, adding more pressure and doubt to Mason's resume.
"We let this one slip away," Mason said.
South Carolina doesn't look like a bowl team, either, but at least the Gamecocks have a little momentum to build off of. For Vandy, it has a week to erase this performance and move on to face a Middle Tennessee team that now looks more like a toss-up than it did a day ago.