After a road trip to Arkansas to tangle with their first SEC foe of the season, the South Carolina Gamecocks return to Columbia to renew their early-season clash against the Georgia Bulldogs within the friendly confines of Williams-Brice Stadium (although, unfortunately, in a noon game). The Bulldogs, as the defending national champions and ranked third in the Associated Press’ preseason poll, are as formidable as ever, and the Gamecocks will have to hope one of those classic early-season hiccups can derail UGA’s momentum.
Last meeting: Also played in Week 3, this was an ugly result for the Gamecocks: Georgia’s generationally talented defense smothered South Carolina, 40-13, and the No. 2 Bulldogs cruised behind resurgent quarterback J.T. Daniels, who was returning from injury and looked like he hadn’t missed a beat. With Luke Doty getting his first action of the season, South Carolina looked exactly as overwhelmed and inexperienced as you’d expect against the eventual champions.
Last season: As previously mentioned — but a fact that has not become any less distressing with the passage of time — the Bulldogs finally cashed in on years of promise and near-misses and coulda-woulda-shoulda, hoisting the College Football Playoff trophy after compiling a 14-1 record and avenging an SEC Championship loss to Alabama by rolling over the Tide in their title game rematch, 33-18, when it mattered most. I’m sure I speak for more than myself when I say this felt like a monkey’s paw wish come true to the Gamecock faithful: While Clemson wasn’t in the championship picture for the first time in entirely too long, South Carolina’s other principal rival won instead. Cool!!
Player to watch out for: Following a good chunk of attrition to the NFL and the transfer portal, Georgia has quite a few holes to fill, particularly on that nasty defense. But much like his mentor, Nick Saban, UGA coach Kirby Smart is a recruiting wizard, and there’s little reason to suspect the Bulldogs won’t be able to plug-and-play with their next batch of blue-chip prospects. Quarterback Stetson Bennett, who ultimately supplanted Daniels, returns, and will have a talented receiving corps at his disposal (including a former No. 1 tight end recruit in Arik Gilbert), and despite the UGA backfield losing two of its stars in Zamir White and James Cook, it’s still Georgia — you can count on another stud running back (and usually two) stepping up to fill that void. It’s how the Bulldogs retool their defensive personnel that’ll be the most interesting to watch.
Prognosis: Georgia is the prohibitive favorite to win the East and should have little trouble making it back to another SEC Championship game and challenging for a second straight CFP berth as well. They may not quite have the horses to defend their national title, but they’ll certainly get a chance to.