If there's any one reason for South Carolina fans to be optimistic about the match-up against Georgia on Saturday, it's this: When the Gamecocks and the Bulldogs face each other, it's very rarely a blowout. The game has been played 22 times since South Carolina joined the SEC in the 1992 season; in only seven of those games has the margin of victory been more than 14 points. Only twice in 11 match-ups has South Carolina lost on its home field by more than two touchdowns.
And it's a pattern that's held no matter how bad things have gotten for the Gamecocks. The 1998 team would go 1-10 by the time the season was over; the Georgia team that went 9-3 that year beat South Carolina by the score of 17-3. In 2002 -- arguably Mark Richt's best season in Athens -- the Dawgs beat the Gamecocks 13-7 before going on to win the SEC title and just miss the national championship game. South Carolina finished the year locked out of the postseason with a 5-7 record.
When you get into a close game, just about anything can happen -- and that's where the hope comes in for South Carolina. Because based on the two games that the Gamecocks have played and the one game that Georgia has played, this shouldn't be that close. We're still early in the season, of course, and any one game can be a false positive one way or the other -- but based on one game, Georgia is the far superior team. It just might not show on the field.
The advantage Georgia has even if things get close is Todd Gurley (and his supporting cast at running back, but mostly Gurley). If Georgia can take even a small lead and get the ball back late, Gurley can chew up yards and minutes on a clock-killing drive not unlike the one the Bulldogs used last year to close out the game. If Georgia gets the ball back with a small lead or the game tied and enough time to do so, they can give the ball to Gurley and see if the Gamecocks can stop him. Only if the Bulldogs fall far behind will they need to rely on the arm of Hutson Mason, and that scenario seems unlikely.
Not that South Carolina isn't going to try to make Mason win the game on his own. Expect the Gamecocks to stack the box early and often to try to take Gurley away. South Carolina has a good chance to make this a game and maybe even win it if they can shut down the Dawgs' running game, but they have no chance if Gurley is running wild. And while he might not run wild, it's hard to see South Carolina stopping Gurley enough to make the difference.
Game Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
Live Stream: CBSSports.com
Brandon's prediction: Georgia 31, South Carolina 24