The annual Georgia-South Carolina SEC East tussle routinely brings a November feel to a mid-September weekend. This year’s installment is no different.
Divisional championship stakes are on the table Saturday in Columbia when the Bulldogs visit Williams-Brice Stadium. However, as is always the case in this budding rivalry, the story line has taken its own, unique tone. In the process, this border series is taking on the look of competition you’re more likely to see on Thanksgiving weekend than you are Week 3.
“Because both our teams, as of late, have been more highly ranked, it’s become more relevant on a national level,” Georgia head coach Mark Richt said on this week’s SEC coaches teleconference. “More people are interested in the game, because both teams have a chance to win the East.”
South Carolina came into last year’s contest with a three-game win streak over Georgia, which gave the Head Ball Coach reason to crow. And of course, Steve Spurrier being Steve Spurrier, crow he did.
But in need of a win, both to preserve any hope at a national championship after losing to Clemson in Week 1, and to reestablish its place in the SEC, Georgia delivered.
Injuries derailed the Bulldogs in 2013, but their 41-30 defeat of the Gamecocks was a glimpse at just how good that squad could be at nearly full strength.
The Dawgs served notice to that end once again in their Week 1 throttling of Clemson. In particular, running back Todd Gurley put on a show, which had some pundits ready to declare him the Heisman Trophy winner in August.
Obviously Gurley’s road to New York is much, much longer, and it starts in Week 3 with a stop in Columbia. But while it may only be Sept. 13, matching up with South Carolina is a marquee opportunity for Gurley to make the kind of Heisman statement typically reserved for the end of the season.
After one early contender for the 2014 Heisman emerged at South Carolina’s expense–Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill–Spurrier would like to avoid allowing another such individual performance.
“Statistically, I think he’s averaging 15 yards a carry…and he had a 100-yard or 99-yard kickoff return so he’s probably the leading Heisman candidate right now,” Spurrier said on this week’s SEC coaches teleconference call.
Containing Gurley, and the Georgia run game at large, is paramount for the Gamecocks lest they fall into an 0-2 SEC hole. Dropping a second home game in conference play essentially ends any hope South Carolina has of playing for its first SEC title.
Make-or-break conference battles often unfold in November; for the Gamecocks, Saturday is November come early.