COLUMBIA - In the season's third week, South Carolina will enter The Big One.
It's become an annual tradition for the Gamecocks. They enter the season with hopes of winning the SEC East title. They enter knowing Georgia stands in the way.
Things will be no different this fall. Behind Heisman Trophy candidate tailback Todd Gurley, Georgia is once again among the SEC East frontrunners. On Sept. 13, the two modern SEC East powers will clash at Williams-Brice Stadium. The winner should set the tone for the divisional race, with an inside track for a berth in the SEC Championship game this December.
Of course, it hasn't worked out that way in the recent past. The past three years, experts and analysts have dubbed South Carolina and Georgia's early-season matchup as the game that could potentially decide the East race. Each year, the winner fell short of the divisional title. Still, the importance can't be overstated, no matter what history suggests.
Here's what to expect from Georgia in September.
Coach: Mark Richt (126-45, 14th season)
Returning starters: 15 (five offense, 10 defense)
2013 record: 8-5, 5-3 SEC; third place SEC East
Scoring offense: 36.7 points per game (22nd in country)
Scoring defense: 29 points against per game (79th)
Series: South Carolina trails 47-17-2
Last meeting: South Carolina lost to Georgia 41-30 last season. The Gamecocks simply didn't have enough to beat senior quarterback Aaron Murray in Athens. Murray completed 17-of-23 passes for 309 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. The good news for South Carolina is it won't have to deal with Murray this fall. The bad news? Gurley had 132 yards on 30 carries, and he'll be back for more.
Golden Nuggett line: South Carolina 3-point favorites
Three things to know about Georgia
1. Richt's longevity: The quick turnover that is the college football coaching carrousel is highlighted in South Carolina's 2014 schedule. The Gamecocks will play only three opponents who have their current coach for more than three seasons. Richt, the dean of SEC coaches, represents a rare longevity among college football coaches. Georgia is still the only school Richt has ever been a head coach. His tenure almost dates back to the 1990s, and it has seen all kinds of highs and lows. It's also a modern marvel considering the sport's current landscape.
2. Bulldogs bounce back: It's no secret why Richt has lasted so long at Georgia. Under Richt, the Bulldogs have shown a remarkable ability to bounce back from underwhelming seasons. Five times, Georgia has failed to win double-digit games under Richt, including last season. In three of the previous four, Georgia responded by winning at least 10 games the next fall. Fans turn sour on decorated coaches when their programs string together multiple disappointing seasons. Ricth has shown an ability to avoid that pitfall, which should be a good omen for this fall.
3. Heisman frontrunner: Gurley has been on everyone's shortlist of Heisman Trophy candidates this offseason, and for good reason. Despite missing three games last season because of a nagging ankle injury, Gurley finished fourth in the SEC with 98.9 rushing yards per game. He had 10 touchdowns in 10 games and was a difference-maker when on the field. If healthy, he's got a real shot at being named a Heisman Trophy finalist.
Gamecocks schedule glimpse
Week before: East Carolina
Next week: at Vanderbilt
On the horizon: Missouri
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