ATHENS, Ga. — The South Carolina-Georgia game is back in its familiar spot — leading off the Southeastern Conference schedule — and the stakes are as high as ever today.
The sixth-ranked Gamecocks have a chance to establish themselves as a legitimate national championship contender, while the 11th-ranked Bulldogs cannot afford another loss if they want to have a realistic shot at climbing to No. 1.
“I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while,” South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw said. “We all know the importance of this game.”
This used to be an automatic win for Georgia.
For the first time in series history, South Carolina (1-0) has won three straight over the Bulldogs (0-1). Last year was especially grim for Georgia — a 35-7 loss in Columbia, when the game was played in Week 6 instead of its usual spot at the start of the SEC slate.
“It was embarrassing,” cornerback Damian Swann said. “On national television, in front of their home crowd, they kind of put on a show. Now we’re in position to do that in front of our fans. We need to go give our fans a show.”
Georgia opened with a 38-35 loss at Clemson, costing the Bulldogs six spots in the Associated Press rankings. But it was hardly a fatal blow to their championship hopes, either nationally or in the SEC. In fact, they bounced back to win the East Division the past two years after losses to South Carolina, and they nearly earned a shot at the national title last season despite the four-touchdown loss to the Gamecocks.
But the Bulldogs know their margin for error is much thinner this season, given what remains on their schedule: No. 9 LSU in late September and the Cocktail Party game against No. 12 Florida in early November.
“We don’t want to get behind the eight-ball again,” receiver Michael Bennett said.
If the Gamecocks get past Georgia, it will mean a huge advantage in the SEC East. They’ll gain a tiebreaker edge over the Bulldogs, and they can look forward to a favorable conference schedule that includes only one more ranked opponent — Florida — and that’s at home on Nov. 16.
“We’re going to try to win the division. This is a crucial game there,” coach Steve Spurrier said. “All of our players know what our goals are, so that is not something we talk about too much.”