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Ten Games That Will Shape the SEC: No. 7 -- South Carolina at Georgia

The Game: South Carolina Gamecocks at Georgia Bulldogs, Sept. 12

What's at Stake: A good chance of being second in the SEC East and the opportunity to be the last challenge for Florida's title hopes. If you assume that Tennessee will get waxed by Florida a week after this game -- as I do -- then there are only three potential stumbling blocks for Florida left on the schedule: at LSU on Oct. 10, vs. Georgia on Oct. 31 and at South Carolina on Nov. 14. The winner of this game will likely have proved itself capable of at least getting through the SEC schedule with just one non-Florida loss, meaning a victory over the Gators could derail their title hopes and send the Gamecocks or, far more likely, the Dawgs to Atlanta instead. Plus, South Carolina's only longstanding SEC rival is Georgia, which the Gamecocks played even as an ACC and independent team. The usual banter includes Georgia fans predicting a 30-point win and South Carolina fans confidently declaring this to be the year they prevail, only to have both deflated when the Dawgs win by a touchdown following a costly mental error by the Gamecocks. This is pretty much the script 70-80 percent of the time these teams play.

Where It Falls on South Carolina's Schedule: The second game of the year and the second on the road as part of a brutal opening stretch -- there's nothing easy about South Carolina's schedule at any point of the season -- that goes at N.C. State, at Georgia, vs. Florida Atlantic, vs. Ole Miss. After that, the Gamecocks play against South Carolina State and Kentucky, at Alabama, against Vanderbilt, at Tennessee and Arkansas, then against Florida and Clemson. In other words, just another week on one of the toughest slates in the country.

Where It Falls on Georgias's Schedule: If there's a team with a harder opening month than South Carolina, it's Georgia. The Dawgs go to Oklahoma State, host the Gamecocks, then travel to Arkansas before returning to Athens to play Arizona State. Oh, and October features vs. LSU, at Tennessee, at Vanderbilt and vs. Florida. The only non-murderous month for Georgia is November, which includes Tennessee Tech, Auburn, Kentucky and at Georgia Tech. So "non-murderous" being relatively speaking.

What Happened This Past Season: The script played out to perfection. Despite rushing for only 18 yards, South Carolina outgained Georgia 289-252. But Mike Davis attempted to prove he was Mister Fantastic, and fumbled the potential game-tying touchdown at the Georgia 2 as he tried to reach across the goal line. The 14-7 Georgia victory was preserved.

What Will Decide the Game This Year: Who has broken in their inexperienced but hyped quarterback. Gamecock fans have been waiting for years to see evidence that Stephen Garcia is managing to keep his wits about him off the field, something he appears to have succeeded at so far this year. And while many Georgia fans have kept level expectations for Joe Cox, there are already some breaking out the D.J. Shockley comparisons. That said, neither of these players has to live up to their fan bases' lofty expectations. Each has to avoid making the kind of critical mistake that would give the other team control of the game.

South Carolina Will Probably Win If ... Georgia scores fewer than 13 points. Beginning in 1997, the Dawgs have won every game in which they have scored a baker's dozen or more and lost every game in which they haven't. That mission will be harder if South Carolina has to take the field with a good portion of its front seven benched, injured or inexperienced -- as appears likely. It would also help if the Gamecocks avoid the kind of improbable blunders and mishaps that plague them every time they face Georgia.

The game-winning TD in 2002.

Georgia Will Probably Win If ... The script stays the same. Like so much of Georgia's season, this depends heavily on how good Cox really is. He'll get some help from the RBs, no doubt; Georgia under Richt has generally had the kind of strong ground game that can win close games. Georgia's front seven is good enough to keep Garcia from having much time in the pocket. South Carolina fans will concede that would be less than optimal for the Gamecocks.

Conclusion: Go ahead and pencil it into the record book: Georgia will once again win one of the most closely-fought games of the season. There's more reason at this point to believe the Dawgs will have a stronger defensive effort, a better offensive line and a more productive rushing attack. No matter how interesting South Carolina makes it, Georgia almost always gets away.


No. 8 -- Tennessee at Florida
No. 9 -- Auburn at Tennesee
No. 10 -- Kentucky at Vanderbilt