COLUMBIA - If recent history is any indication, strength of schedule is a critical component of the SEC East race.

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier hasn't kept gripes to himself in past years when he felt the schedule strength tilted toward Georgia. Spurrier has been the primary supporter for only counting divisional games for the divisional race, something that's unlikely to ever happen.

The Gamecocks shouldn't feel bad about their schedule this fall, at least in one national publication's opinion. South Carolina's strength of schedule was ranked ninth in the 14-team SEC by Athlon, one spot ahead of No. 10 Georgia.

With barely a discernable difference in schedule strengths between the two SEC East frontrunners, this fall could be a rare occurrence when the schedule doesn't play an important factor in the SEC East race.

"South Carolina and Georgia have eerily similar schedules," Braden Gall of Athlon wrote. "Both play Clemson out of conference and both play defending SEC champ Auburn in crossover. Carolina, however, has to play both Tigers on the road whereas the Bulldogs get both of those striped opponents at home."

True, the Gamecocks have to travel to the Plains and Death Valley, while Georgia gets to host Auburn and Clemson this season. But, Athlon believes, South Carolina has the more desired home schedule.

The Gamecocks will host Georgia and defending SEC East champ Missouri at Williams-Brice Stadium in September. Both games could be critical in the divisional race.

Overall, Athlon concedes South Carolina has a slightly more difficult schedule than Georgia, but the Gamecocks likely wouldn't trade because of their more advantageous home schedule.