It's easy to get ahead of ourselves on the first week of the college football season. Unlike the NFL, college football does not have a preseason; the games we see in late August or early September are the first time we've seen most of these teams play in seven or eight months. So a loss is rarely a reason for panic and a win is rarely a reason for as much optimism as it brings.
Georgia should know that better than any other program. In 2011, the Dawgs started out 0-2 and rebounded to win the SEC East over South Carolina, one of the two teams that defeated Georgia early. A 28-point loss in the sixth game against the Gamecocks last season proved to be nothing more than a speed bump in a campaign that brought the Dawgs to the brink of an appearance in the national title game. So the Clemson loss at the opening of 2013 should have drawn a lot less panic than it did out of the Athens faithful.
Because Georgia showed in a 41-30 win against South Carolina why they're still a national title contender despite the loss to the Tigers. This time, they're starting their campaign for the SEC East and the BCS trophy ahead of the eight-ball instead of behind it.
With any luck, this game will end the ridiculous storyline that Aaron Murray can't win the big one. Murray was outstanding all game long and finally got his first win against the Gamecocks. His fourth touchdown in particular was an example of a senior both crafty enough to set up a play and talented enough to make it happen -- Murray avoided pressure and hit Justin Scott-Wesley on a beautiful throw that turned into an 85-yard score thanks to a busted coverage by South Carolina. Murray ended up 17-of-23 for 309 yards and four touchdowns. Todd Gurley added 132 rushing yards and a touchdown on 31 carries, along with an eight-yard touchdown reception.
Connor Shaw also played well for the Gamecocks, with a solid day passing (16-of-25 for 229 yards and two touchdowns.) He also ran 17 times for 66 yards, supplementing a great day from Mike Davis, who ran for 151 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries.
The culprit, in the end, was the South Carolina defense. The Gamecocks did come up with some big stops, but Georgia still converted more than half of its third- and fourth-down opportunities, including a 4th-and-2 play late that locked up the game. And the Dawgs churned out 535 total yards, an average of 6.9 yards per play.
Georgia didn't completely shut down Jadeveon Clowney -- he did have his first sack of the season -- but the Dawgs offense did a decent job of scheming around him when they could and minimizing his impact at other times. As we've pointed out here before, there's a reason that it's incredibly difficult to win the Heisman Trophy as a defensive lineman. Clowney has now affected the game plan of two opponents, but he doesn't have a gaudy stat sheet to show for it.
South Carolina is not out of things just yet; Georgia's twin division titles after losing to the Gamecocks show as much. But the Dawgs have only two games on the schedule that leap out as possible losses: LSU and Florida. Georgia would have to lose both of those, suffer an upset along the way or end up in a three-way tie with South Carolina and another team -- likely Florida. And Florida didn't exactly look like a team gunning for a 7-1 record in the SEC on Saturday.
Upsets do happen. As the cliche goes, that's why they play the games. The SEC East race didn't end Saturday evening in Athens, but Georgia too a huge step towards a third straight trip to Atlanta.