The 2012 SEC Schedule and The Georgia Bulldogs- C' Mon Man!
My, how times have changed. Twenty years ago the South Carolina Gamecocks were invited to join the SEC as part of Roy Kramer's vision of a twelve team league featuring a conference championship in the hope of attaining even greater power and prestige in college football. The Gamecocks entered the SEC hat in hand, and were just happy to rub elbows with the college football elite and with minor exception, did little to upset the balance of power in the SEC East. Gamecock fans seemed content to slide into the fourth spot behind the hallowed "Big Three"- Florida, Tennessee and Georgia, and learned the first unwritten rule of life in their new conference- accept what the SEC gives you without question. This meant playing an early season game against Georgia, a team that the Gamecocks had played for years with minimal success, and late season games against Tennessee and Florida. When coupled with the Clemson game, this became what Gamecock fans ruefully referred to as the "Orange Crush" portion of the schedule. With the exception of the 2000 and 2001 seasons, the Gamecocks had little to show for their first thirteen years in the SEC. The lesson learned during that time was simple and clear- to be one of the best you have to play and compete with the best. There were a lot of hard knocks along the way, but the Gamecocks accepted the challenge to improve and did so without complaint.
The 2005 season brought the Gamecocks a new coach in SEC legend Steve Spurrier, but the pundits all agreed that even Spurrier wouldn't be able to turn things around and would be gone in a couple of years. Now in his seventh season, the Head Ball Coach has surprised the SEC by creating a steadily improving program, luring in top players, winning the SEC East in 2010 and sweeping the division in 2011. In the process, Spurrier has won a combined nine straight games against Georgia, Tennessee, Florida and Clemson, and it has become apparent that this shift in power is not sitting well with the Georgia Bulldogs and their coach Mark Richt. There have been rumblings coming out of Athens for a couple of years that it is somehow unfair for Georgia to have to play South Carolina so early in the season, despite Georgia holding a 13-7 advantage in the series over the last 20 years. South Carolina, on the other hand, has responded to life under Spurrier by focusing on getting better, tougher, stronger and deeper with the results speaking for themselves. Despite being a perpetual underdog, the Gamecocks annually looked forward to the early season test with Georgia as a measuring stick for the remainder of the season.
During the 2011 season the SEC added Texas A&M and Missouri to expand to 14 teams and in the process created much speculation about what changes would occur in the upcoming season. On Wednesday the SEC released their 2012 football schedule and as rumored, the Georgia Bulldogs received not one, but two huge scheduling adjustments from the SEC: 1) Their game at Alabama was dropped from the schedule and 2) Their annual SEC opener with South Carolina was moved four weeks back to October 6th. While the SEC can offer some justification for dropping Alabama from Georgia's schedule, the SEC's additional decision to push back the South Carolina game gives the appearance of favoritism and in the opinion of some, anoints the Bulldogs as the 2012 SEC East Champions. The Alabama decision does seem strange because it eliminates what would have been a marquee match up between two traditional conference powers who have rarely played in the "golden age" of the SEC. Furthermore, considering that in recent history everything the SEC touches seems to turn to gold, why would they turn down televising what would have been a huge interdivisional game? There is just something unseemly about the defending SEC East champions again dodging a matchup with either LSU and Alabama for four seasons and counting.
Do the Bulldogs really believe that their whining to the SEC office about the South Carolina game and the SEC's subsequent maneuvering will help them accomplish something off the field they haven't been able to do on the field in three of the last five years? Have they forgotten that in the SEC you actually have to play and beat the best to win the conference? More importantly, have they forgotten that they will have to travel to Columbia, SC and face a team and fan base that believes that Georgia will go down for the third straight year no matter where or when the game is played? The times have truly changed, and twenty years of top notch competition have transformed South Carolina from a doormat to an emerging conference power that welcomes the chance to prove they deserve to be considered an upper echelon team. As Tennessee and Florida work through some rebuilding projects in their programs, it appears the road to the SEC East will run through Columbia and Athens. Considering the difference in the "shaking out" of the two schedules, it appears someone is trying to give Georgia a slight South Westerly nudge to Atlanta. Rarely has avoiding competition paid off in the SEC, will 2012 be the exception? With a clean conference slate to work with in coming up with a one year schedule for 2012 this is what the SEC does, C ' Mon Man!
Bill Hearn, Gamecock Football Analyst for instantradiorivals.com