“We want Bama”? Pfft. How about the REAL No. 1? “We want Georgia.”
Entering this week’s South Carolina-Georgia game, you’ve probably heard already that the Bulldogs are the new No. 1 team in the College Football Playoff rankings. Yes, over Alabama and everyone else.
While the coaching staff at Georgia just wants to concentrate on the upcoming game vs. the Gamecocks, all that Bulldogs fans want to think about is a future (possible) matchup with Alabama. Hell, maybe even two future matchups between the teams. They can’t help it. Well, pull back on the reins just a wee-bit there, Sliver Britches fans. You’ve got some treacherous waters to navigate first, for sure.
Before you can think about a matchup with Alabama, you’ll have to clinch the SEC East title. And that could happen as early as this weekend with a win over the Gamecocks, who sit a game and a half behind you in the standings.
The Cocks are coming off a hard-fought 34-27 win over Vanderbilt in a game that secured bowl eligibility as USC improved to 6-2. But the unbeaten Bulldogs have looked like world-beaters, averaging 42 points per game ever since that one-point escape at Notre Dame, including a dominating win over Florida last weekend.
The stage is set for a good one between the hedges at Sanford Stadium.
South Carolina at Georgia
Kickoff: Saturday Nov. 4, 12:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Georgia -24
Three Things to Watch
1. Georgia to go old school
If you’re having Herschel Walker or Lars Tate flashbacks when you watch this year’s Bulldog team, worry not. It’s true that ole UGa is back to fielding a meat-grinder of a running game, and it’s paying off in spades. Nick Chubb (now with 4,000-plus career yards) and Sony Michel (averaging 8.5 yards per carry) are tearing up opposing defenses and setting the tone game in and game out. In fact, against Florida, Bulldogs QB Jake Fromm had to throw only seven passes in the 42-7 romp. O-Line coach Sam Pittman has to be given a ton of credit after inheriting just two starters from a year ago and having that line jell as well as it has. If Fromm throws fewer than 15 passes vs. USC, then you know the Dawgs are barking loud.
2. The healing M*A*S*H unit
This might be a different South Carolina team than any that has been put on the field up to this point, particularly in the offensive line. The Gamecocks have played eight games and had seven different starting lineups in the O-line. Malik Young, Cory Helms and Zack Bailey all returned to the lineup last week after suffering high ankle sprains, and it made a difference in the win over Vanderbilt. Running back stud Rico Dowdle is out with a fractured leg, so A.J. Turner (above, right) and Ty'Son Williams will need to continue to step up. Or, more specifically, the line will need to create some running lanes against that nasty Georgia D, which is the third toughest in the country.
3. Third-down stops
How big will it be for the Carolina defense to buck up and play its best game of the year — in particular, on third down? Last week against VU, the Dores were 8-for-15 on third down and totaled 440 yards against what was once called the Fire Ant Defense. SC is ranked at No. 103 in third-down defense, and the Georgia offense is ranked No. 5 in converting third downs. You see the problem here. Getting some key stops of that smash-mouth Bulldogs offense will be vital. If the conversion trends continue here, this will be a long day for the Gamecocks.
ESPN’s FPI matchup predictor shows the Bulldogs to have a 91 percent chance to win this game. But don’t worry, Carolina fans — the USA men’s hockey team had much worse odds to overcome in order to beat the Russians in the 1980 Olympics. And remember, this is college football played by a bunch of 18-to-21-year-old kids. Anything can happen, right?
But seriously folks, if South Carolina can maintain its discipline — the Gamecocks have committed fewer than five penalties per game and are second in the SEC in turnover margin, having lost just six all year — they have the ability to turn this one into a four-quarter game. Additionally, Georgia may just be due for a letdown after its usual emotional game with Florida, which helped cost Gators head coach Jim McElwain his job.
By the way, the Two Jakes, quarterbacks Bentley and Fromm, will both need to balance their respective offenses to buoy their teams’ hopes. But be warned — if Georgia comes out with any hint of looking flat, this one could stay interesting all the way to the final whistle.
Prediction: Georgia 35, South Carolina 17
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.