South Carolina and Georgia Race for the East // SEC 2011

COLUMBIA - SEPTEMBER 11: Tailback Marcus Lattimore #21 of the South Carolina Gamecocks (center with ball) is tackled by cornerback Brandon Boykin #2 and free safety Jakar Hamilton #23 of the Georgia Bulldogs during the game at Williams-Brice Stadium on September 11 2010 in Columbia South Carolina. The Gamecocks beat the Bulldogs 17-6. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)

When you think about it, Georgia and South Carolina are two very different programs to be competing for the East division title. UGA was a charter SEC member; South Carolina joined up in 1991. The Bulldogs are 12th in all-time winning percentage; the Gamecocks are 73rd. Georgia has 12 SEC titles; South Carolina has only a single ACC title to its name.

And yet if Steve Spurrier's team can win the division again this year, his program will be awfully close to Georgia's in one regard. It's hard to believe it, but Georgia has just three East division titles since divisional play began in 1992. South Carolina has one, but another this year puts it just one behind the Bulldogs.

Of course, history means very little in a single season of football. Eric Zeier and Steve Taneyhill are not walking through that door.

South Carolina was the overwhelming favorite to win the division at SEC Media Days, but things aren't quite so clear-cut in the early preseason consensus. Right now South Carolina only leads Georgia in division picks 4-2, and the Gamecocks are ranked 15 while Georgia is 18. South Carolina had one more player selected to the preseason All-SEC team at media days, but Georgia had a better average team for its players. Georgia doesn't have much depth, but Spurrier doesn't talk glowingly about anything beyond his starting lineup.

These teams are quite close, and it should shape up to be a great race between them for the division. Obviously their head-to-head contest in the second game of the year will give the winner the driver's seat in the East. Georgia can better afford a loss as we'll cover later, but regardless, a lost tiebreaker is a difficult thing to overcome.

A lot of what will determine the race is currently unknowable. Can Stephen Garcia keep his head screwed on straight? Can Aaron Murray raise the level of what is at the moment a thin and largely unproven receiving corps? How good will highly touted freshmen Isaiah Crowell and Jadeveon Clowney be? How big a leap will South Carolina's offense make in Year 2 of the zone read offense that Shawn Elliott brought from Appalachian State? How good will Georgia's defense be in Year 2 of the 3-4 scheme that Todd Grantham brought from the NFL?

Given Mark Richt's recent slide and the historical stigma attached to South Carolina, it's hard for a lot of people to lock down a firm favorite that they feel good about. Heck, the preseason consensus lists the USA Today as having Florida, a team thinner than Georgia with a brand new coaching staff, winning the East. Unless the bottom falls out from one of these two teams, no one is going to feel all that safe about the division leader until it clinches its berth to Atlanta.

Doesn't that sound like fun? The race for the East should be a wild ride.

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