Let's go ahead and get it out there, because there shouldn't be much suspense: I see no way the Gamecocks will win this game. Not in the "all-hope-is-lost, mail-it-in" sense. Of course there are ways that South Carolina can win. But to say I'm pessimistic is putting it wildly. I fully expect to lose this game.
This is a team that outscored its opponents by nearly 12.5 ppg and returns 17 starters. Okay, make that sixteen. They're not just blowing smoke with that national title talk. The spelling-challenged Dawgs are for real.
Offensive line. Well. How things have changed. The injury to Trinton Sturdivant -- occupying the important left tackle position -- has left the Georgia faithful somewhat crestfallen.
The dim view says this is a serious, serious blight on any championship hopes. Without Sturdivant, we will return only two starters on the O line and one of those will be playing a new position. If Boling moves, every O line spot will have a new face this year. On the line, experience counts and we'll be breaking in someone new everywhere. A potential strength has now turned into a very ominous question mark.An optimistic view says this is bad, but manageable.
Quarterbacks. Sure, QB Matt Stafford has had his issues before. And C&F is not just talking about the color coordination of his kegging companions. Even last year, he only got his completion percentage up to 55.7 percent. But, again, Georgia Sports Blog puts things in perspective.
Richt has coached two Heisman winning QBs and the winningest quarterback college football history. If he says that 62% is the right number for Stafford, then who am I or Matt Hayes/Dennis Dodd/Etc to argue? Stafford is only 1.7 completions per game away from that goal. Again, is that really so far off?
In any case, Stafford is far more experienced than Tommy Beecher, and without seeing more from Beecher, we can't assume that talent will offset the edge in experience. ADVANTAGE: GEORGIA
Running backs. I'm really looking forward to Mike Davis' rushing this year. I think he can have a solid season. But if you don't see the difference between Davis and Knowshon Moreno -- well, I don't know how to help you. Davis could be good; I'm not thinking he's a Heisman contender. ADVANTAGE: GEORGIA
Wide receivers. Mohamed Massaquoi returns for his 19th breakout season after having another ho-hum year with 32 catches for 491 yards and four scores. He was not their leading receiver last year; that honor went to Sean Bailey (39, 615, 5), who does not return. If the offensive line worries work out, this is the weakest part of the offense. Give Kenny McKinley and Co. the edge. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA
Defensive line. Marcus Howard is gone, taking with him his 12 TFL, including 10.5 sacks. But Geno Atkins (14.5 TFL, 7.5 sacks) returns. Jeff Owens and Roderick Battle also aren't too shabby. There's no reason to believe that the Dawgs will do much worse than the 109.9 ypg and 3.3 ypc they allowed last year. South Carolina's line might improve more than Georgia's, but there's also more room for improvement. ADVANTAGE: GEORGIA
Linebackers. If you like watching good linebackers play, this is a game for you. Georgia's three returning starters accounted for 182 tackles, 21 of those for loss. J-Brink and Eric Norwood don't have the gaudy numbers from last year, largely because of Brinkley's injury. The thinnest of margins here. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA
Secondary. The Dawgs picked off the opposing passer 15 times in 2007, and return three starters and another player who got significant playing time. Of course, South Carolina returns all four starters after grabbing 14 interceptions. Still, Georgia is probably just a little bit better. ADVANTAGE: GEORGIA
Brandon Coutu is gone, which is good news for anybody that faces Georgia, and he is replaced by true freshman Blair Walsh. The Mayor has tried to turn this into a positive from a strategic standpoint (it's a stretch, methinks), but I don't see anybody saying he won't be a downgrade at K. Succop will likely stay on at kicker, though the idea of someone else doing the punting is getting traction. But Ray Rychleski has some work to do on the return squad. ADVANTAGE: PUSH
This has gotten a lot closer in recent years. No doubt, Mark Richt is one of the best in the business now, especially since the emergence of Evil Richt. But Spurrier still has a jump on him when it comes to the number of SEC crowns and national championships. However, those came at another school. You sort it out. ADVANTAGE: PUSH
The Gamecocks can keep this one close if the defense plays the way we know it's capable of playing. But, again, this might be the toughest game on the schedule this year. It's hard to see how this turns out well. LOSS
THE REST OF THEIR SEASON
Again, this is my pick to win it all. So, um, pretty good. Again, if they get through South Carolina and Arizona, they could easily be 7-0 going into the toughest stretch on the schedule: at LSU, Florida (in Jacksonville), at Kentucky and at Auburn. If the Dawgs can manage a 3-1 record there, they can head to the SEC CG with an 11-1 record and, if the loss is to LSU or Auburn, a possible shot at redemption. They won't miss twice.