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SEC 2010 // Georgia's Season Has Important Bookends

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The first two games and the last two games could be the biggest ones of the year for Georgia. The results against South Carolina and Arkansas could very well be the difference between a good season and a great one; but if both those games end up as losses, the showdowns with Auburn and Georgia Tech in November could be the difference between a good season and a mediocre one. There's also some game in late October that Georgia fans care a great deal about.

THE EARLY TESTS

at SOUTH CAROLINA | Sept. 11
The traditional SEC opener against the Gamecocks features maybe the two most intriguing teams in the SEC East this year. We think we know what to expect from Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee and Vanderbilt, but the Dawgs and South Carolina remain somewhat enigmatic. The general rule used to be that the team that won this game went on to have a good season, but that appears less sure than usual since the 2007 South Carolina win was soon forgotten in the 0-5 end to that season and both teams had mediocre records last year. But the close nature of the series has continued; only twice in the last nine games has either side won by more than a touchdown. (It was Georgia in both cases. ) Another note: Seven of South Carolina's 14 wins in the 106-year-old, 62-game series have come since 1988.

ARKANSAS | Sept. 18
This is a huge test for both of these teams. The Razorbacks offense will be one of the best that Todd Grantham's new 3-4 defense will face all year; the question is whether the players will even have the signs down by the time the Hogs come to town. Arkansas, of course, will be trying to find out just how good they really are in an early road game in the SEC. No SEC team has played Georgia fewer times than Arkansas; the two have met only a dozen times since their first game in 1969. The Dawgs have won nine of those games and six straight. While it's always difficult to predict things like this in the preseason, the smart money is on a game with many, many points.

TENNESSEE | Oct. 9
The annual showdown with the Vols has proven to be one the most dangerous to Georgia in recent memory; Tennessee is 4-2 against the Dawgs over the last six games, with the only two losses coming in Phil Fulmer's two losing seasons. Last year's 45-19 annihilation in Knoxville was the beginning of the unwinding of Georgia's season. You would think now would be a time for revenge, but UGA followed up a 51-33 home loss in 2006 with a 35-14 road defeat that was almost as bad. Georgia has a losing record in Sanford and Neyland, though it has a winning record in other Athens venues and a .500 mark elsewhere in Knoxville.

LATE HATE

vs. FLORIDA | Oct. 30
We'll have more on this game later today, but a note to Florida and Georgia administrators: It is still the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. Deal with it. In any case, we all know the stats on this one: Steve Spurrier's arrival in Gainesville in 1990 coincided with the beginning of a 17-3 run in Florida's favor in what had been a Georgia series. (By a slight 36-30-2 margin, but when it's a rival any lead counts the same. The Dawgs were 44-22-2 before the run began.) And of course there was the 52-17 win in Athens in which Spurrier allegedly ran up the score so Florida would be the first visiting team to reach "half a hundred" in Sanford. Put simply: They don't like each other. Fun fact: Georgia actually holds the largest margin of victory in the series, a 75-0 shellacking in 1942.

at AUBURN | Nov. 13
The Deep South's Oldest Rivalry has been kind to Mark Richt, who's 6-3 in the series and has won the last four. Aside from Georgia Tech, it's the most success he's had in one of the Dawgs' traditional rivalries. Georgia's players should know the 3-4 defense by now, and we should know whether Auburn has any defense at all. Of course, depending on just how good their other rivals are, these teams could have little more to play for than pride and a better bowl game by the time they meet. Which is all you really need when you hate each other.

GEORGIA TECH | Nov. 27
The Yellow Jackets could be back en route to the ACC Championship Game (no, it's not an urban myth; they actually do play it); Paul Johnson has had one losing season, his first at Navy and aside from that has never lost more than eight games. He also has a 1-1 record against Richt. If the Georgia season is on the line between successful and unsuccessful, this to my mind could be the game that decides whether Richt really is on the hot seat headed into 2011. Wins against GT have become expected at Georgia, to the extent that losing might not be accepted if the rest of the season hasn't gone well.

OTHER GAMES

9.4.10 | LOUSIANA-LAFAYETTE If the Dawgs lose this one, you can officially put Mark Richt on the hot seat.

9.25.10 | at MISSISSIPPI STATE The Battle of the Bulldogs. State hasn't won this game since 1974, though the teams have only played nine times since then. Their only loss in Starkville was in 1951, but again with the caveats: The series moved a lot in the nearly 60 years since then, including games in Atlanta and Jackson.

10.2.10 | at COLORADO In fairness, how could Georgia or anyone else know that Colorado would be so spectacularly bad by this season?

10.16.10 | VANDERBILT The Dawgs have won 16 of the last 18 games in this series, though not without some close calls. (What SEC team can't say that about Vanderbilt?)

10.23.10 | at KENTUCKY Georgia is one of the few teams against whom the Wildcats don't have a losing streak going; they've won two out of the last four. But the Dawgs have lost two in a row to UK only once, when the teams played in 1949 and not again until 1956.

11.6.10 | IDAHO STATE  No, not Idaho. Idaho State. What is it with the late-season cupcakes this year? I'm not on board with pushing all conference games to the end of the year, unless this is the only alternative. But UGA found one of the least populous states in the nation and scheduled a game against the third-best team in that state.