That was the answer my eight year old daughter gave when I posed the question to her - Clemson or Georgia - while on the way home from Dunkin Donuts.
There was no hesitation in her voice. "Why, honey?" I asked. It's a question that I've wrestled with for weeks. Months.
My girl's love of Carolina burns pure and fierce. "We hate them both, right?," she asked. I saw the wheels spinning in her head as she munched on a glazed chocolate donut - her fave.
"Absolutely," I assured her. She is eight, after all. "But why do we root for Georgia today?" Perhaps in her innocence of just how unrelentingly awful it has been to live in the the shadow of the Tigers and Dawgs she might possess some pearl of wisdom.
"Because they're not Clemson, Daddy."
Well, maybe a lot of you agree with my daughter. It is the obvious answer. But with UGA traveling to Clemson this week, and the Cocks visiting Athens the next week, I cannot shake the feeling it might be better if Clemmy gets the "W" today - so long as we vanquish both later (what would be our fourth and fifth straight wins, respectively, if our winning streaks hold).
What about conference loyalty?
Not good enough. All I care about is the outcome that gives us the edge against UGA in seven days, and against Tiger High at the end of the season. If that means a blemish on the SEC's record against the ACC - then so be it (and frankly this SEC fixation on the ACC has become unhealthy in my opinion - for whatever that's worth). We can be good SEC homers again when UGA plays Tech and whoever they draw in their bowl game.
So you're rooting for injuries then?
No! I want Aaron Murray, "Gurshall" and Malcolm Mitchell healthy. Ditto for Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins & Co. I want them all to enjoy lucrative and prosperous NFL careers without having ever tasted victory against little ole' USC. We no longer have to hope a timely injury gives us an advantage over a "top" team. We are now a top team ourselves.
But if Georgia loses, they will be even more stirred up for us?
I don't see it that way. After going 0-3 against us in the last three seasons - including the 35-7 thrashing last year in Columbia - the Dawgs should be fired up to play us no matter what the outcome. Remember, two years ago UGA got humiliated by Boise State in the Georgia Dome - and wearing their spiffy Nike Pro Combat uni's, too! Everyone thought UGA would die in the last ditch rather than bow to 0-2 to start 2011, but we still beat the Peanut State Pups 45-42 when no one gave us a chance. My money is that with so many young starters on defense, an 0-1 Georgia will press too hard to redeem themselves.
But if Georgia wins, won't they be ultra-confident?
This doesn't worry me either. We've won
our last two visits two of our last three visits to Athens; of the last four times the Cocks have gone "Between the Hedges" the margin of victory for either side has been four points twice, and two points twice. From a talent and program standpoint, we have reeled in the Dawgs. Whether they are confident or not is largely irrelevant. But it's clear that Georgia players and coaches reflect the Dawg Nation's disdain of Cackalacky - which means they always tend to overlook us no matter how much lip service the Silver Britches pay to taking one game at a time or having respect for us. They don't respect us. If they beat Clemmy - by a lot or a little - they will mentally tick us off as a "W" as they get on the bus back to Athens. Remember, this is a team that believes with all its heart that they were "5 yards" from a national championship. UGA confidence will morph into over-confidence. That has always been UGA's Achilles heel against us since Spurrier came to town.
But what about the recruiting impact if Clemson wins?
Despite going 5-2 over CU in the past seven seasons, Clemson remains a recruiting juggernaut. Give Dabo credit where credit is due - he can recruit lights-out. And Swinney has had decent success against the rest of the SEC - with victories over Kentucky, Auburn and LSU. Win or lose to the Dawgs, the Tigs will still recruit successfully because they sell the family atmosphere, the chance to play for ACC championships and the bucolic isolation of Pickens County - along with their record of producing NFL draft picks - more than they do beating SEC teams.
Can we really stand to listen to Dabo crow about beating UGA though?
Sure. All the way to November 30, Then we can shut him up again. And - while its unlikely - how cool would it be for an undefeated USC to host an undefeated Clemson team at Williams-Brice Stadium? OK, OK. I will shut up so I don't jinx it.
The Survey Says ...
Oh, man. This tough. It's a 51-49 thing. I can see arguments both ways.
I guess I will go with Georgia. But only by a hair! My reasoning? As much as Georgia wants to lay the wood to our posterior - and even though next week will be the home opener / SEC opener at Sanford Stadium - thiis CU-UGA game has been so hyped (especially with Game Day in town), that the Georgians will not have the same emotion when the Cocks come calling ... especially if the Dawgs win - or better yet win big - over the Pickens County Kitties. I'm not saying the Pups won't be riled up. Just not as riled up. And I will rather bank on their traditional over-confidence than them pushing too hard to avoid going 0-2.
In any event, it should be fun. Barring some unforeseen Dabo-Chad-Tajh meltdown, neither Clemson nor Georgia will be able to hold back key parts of their play book like we were able to against UNC, so you will get a good picture of how effective both teams offenses will be tonight. How good (or poor) their defenses are may or may not be fully revealed tonight, however.
So let's root for Georgia. After all, they're not Clemson. Just like my daughter said.
A Final Thought ...
Our friend T. Kyle King has written the definitive history of the Georgia-Clemson series - Fighting Like Cats and Dogs - I've asked for it for my birthday. Having seen the excerpts, it's a look into Southern football history told from the perspective of both our arch-enemies (or arch-villains if you prefer!). So definitely pick it up!
Of course, Georgia has historically dominated Clemson (50-26-2) almost to the same degree as USC (46-17-2). But it was those classic UGA-CU tilts from the late '70s through the '80s which fans remember. Kyle describes just how close these two squads were in the Big 80s - the 1980s virtually could not have been more of a dead heat between these two teams - and he focuses on the great 1982 and 1986 games.
It's au courant among many Bulldog fans to sniff at the Cocks and claim that Clemson is the Dawgs' "true rival" from the Palmetto State (not T. Kyle King - who is punctilious about paying respect to UGA-USC - or most of the denizens of Dawg Sports, but a trip to the comment section at Blutarsky's blog or the AJC is proof-positive). And while it is an undeniable fact that Georgia and Clemson reached their football zeniths in the 1980s, Georgia still got the better of Clemmy - handling the Tigs 6-3 in the 70's and 4-3 in the 80s before the series was temporarily suspended (since 1990, Georgia is 5-1 over CU).
So - what was USC during that time period? Chopped liver? Chicken-fried road kill? Not exactly.
During the 1970-1980s we played Georgia every year but two - 1972 and 1973 Georgia handled us pretty much the same way they handled Clemson - downing us 6-2 under Nixon and Carter, and 7-3 under Reagan and the first half of Bush 41 (keeping in mind Georgia did not play CU in '88 or '89).
There were some heart-breakers and close-shaves with the Dawgs, too. After defeating UGA in '78 and '79, in '80 the great George Rogers fumbled on the Georgia 6 yard line late in the fourth quarter to seal a 13-10 defeat; had we held on to beat or tie the Dawgs that year, we likely would have spoiled their chance at the National Championship.
While we got whipped from '81-'83 at the end of the Jim Carlen era, during the Joe Morrison years and the first season under Sparky Woods (1983-1989) we went a respectable 3-4, winning in '84, '88 and '90 and only losing by a TD or less in ''86 and '87.
Sure we did not win a NC in the 1980s (falling short of that goal by virtue of the 1984 disaster in Annapolis where a victory over the Middies would have put us in the Orange Bowl playing Nebraska for a championship).
Sure, we never won a conference title since we weren't in a conference between 1971-1992. The steroid scandal that singled out USC - despite the fact everyone was juicing everywhere - was the primary reason why we entered in the SEC so hamstrung.
So, all things being equal, we played pretty well against the Dawgs in the '80s and of course produced a Heisman Trophy winner in George Rogers in 1980 - the same year UGA won the championship and the year before Clemmy would win theirs, and two years before Herschel Walker would win his Heisman.
Maybe if we keep beating Georgia, T. Kyle will write a book about the Cocks and Dawgs.
Go Cocks Go Georgia. Beat Clemson!