After an odd four-year scheduling blip, the South Carolina-Georgia game is back where it belongs: Week 2 of the college football season. This clash between SEC East rivals (or non-rivals, to hear the Bulldogs tell it) often serves as not just a measuring stick for each team, but also a de facto elimination game in the division race. With the Gamecocks looking to take another step forward and the Bulldogs fresh off a national championship appearance, the stakes are high, and CBS has already picked the contest for its 3:30 p.m. showcase.
Last meeting: South Carolina never threatened to win, but also refused to let No. 2 Georgia bury it in a 24-10 loss in Athens. The ground game, on both sides of the ball, proved to be the Achilles’ heel — South Carolina’s rushing attack was nonexistent, and Georgia’s backfield predictably ran roughshod all over the Gamecocks. USC somehow hung in there despite getting massively outgained and nearly doubled up in time of possession, but the talent disparity was just too much to overcome.
Last season: The Bulldogs finally reached the dazzling heights their fanbase has been clamoring for. In just coach Kirby Smart’s second year, Georgia won the SEC Championship en route to making its first College Football Playoff appearance. After the Bulldogs eliminated Oklahoma in an exhilarating overtime Rose Bowl win to reach the national title game, Alabama did what it does best and crushed their dreams. Nonetheless, it was the most exciting and dominant season of football Georgia has enjoyed in quite a while, and validated the decision to move on from former coach Mark Richt.
Player to watch out for: The Bulldogs have to replace some elite talent from that special run, especially on defense, and offensive stalwarts like running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel aren’t there anymore. But fortunately for Georgia, quarterback Jake Fromm is only a sophomore. Fromm replaced incumbent starter Jacob Eason early last season when the latter suffered an injury, and the Bulldogs never looked back as their offense took off. With so many losses on defense, the offense could need to carry Georgia this season, and they’ll look for Fromm to take the next step in his development to do so. Five-star freshman Justin Fields is lurking, but barring an unforeseen circumstance like the one Eason suffered, it’s hard to picture anyone but Fromm leading the Bulldogs.
Prognosis: Georgia appears to have carved out a place for itself in the small and elite group of programs that can realistically compete for College Football Playoff spots. The Bulldogs will roll out a roster lacking a lot of the veteran talent that powered them through 2017, but it’s hard to discount them too much with how incredible their recruiting has been. Georgia is overwhelmingly considered the SEC East favorite for good reason, and should be a threat to repeat as SEC champions. Whether the Bulldogs can get back to the playoff will likely come down to how quickly their young defense gets up to speed.