Georgia won the Eastern Division last season and South Carolina the year before. The East crown is again expected to go through Athens, Ga., or Columbia, S.C.
The East's impact game: Georgia at South Carolina, Oct. 6.
The first item of note is that the game will be played later this season rather than the second week as in past years. And, yes, we know Steve Spurrier sort of liked playing the Bulldogs that second game every year, because as he so famously quipped this spring, "You could always count on them having two or three key players suspended."
We'll have to wait until the first Saturday in October for Georgia and South Carolina to battle this season, and you can bet the Bulldogs will be reminded several times of Spurrier's comments. Really, though, this game doesn't need any extra spice. Both sides know the stakes, and both will likely start the 2012 season ranked in the top 10 or top 12 nationally. If you look at the schedules for both teams, there is a decent chance that both will be unbeaten when they meet in Columbia in Week 6.
South Carolina has won the past two games. The Gamecocks have never won three in a row in a series that spans 64 games and dates to 1894. Since 1992, when South Carolina joined the SEC, last season marked the first time the loser of the Georgia-South Carolina game had gone on to play in the SEC title game. The Gamecocks scored three non-offensive touchdowns and won a wild 45-42 affair in Athens. The Bulldogs recovered, though, to win their next seven league games and made their first appearance in the SEC title game since 2005.
The loss of tailback Isaiah Crowell will hurt Georgia, but the Bulldogs are still plenty talented in their offensive backfield. The defenses should be among the best in the league. It's probably going to come down to turnovers and big plays on offense. The Gamecocks dominated the fourth quarter of last season's game largely because they were able to turn around and hand the ball off to Marcus Lattimore, who will be back after injuring his knee midway through last season.
The game is in Columbia, which certainly favors the Gamecocks. But working against them is the fact that Georgia doesn't play any of the big boys in the West, and South Carolina has to play LSU on the road and Arkansas at home. In other words, this is a game South Carolina absolutely must win if it is going to make it to Atlanta for the second time in three years. Georgia, on the other hand, could conceivably lose and still play for the SEC title in December.