SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS
Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, S.C., Oct. 6
Coach: Steve Spurrier, 55-35 in seven seasons at South Carolina, 197-75-2 overall.
Last year: 11-2 (6-2 SEC), defeated #20 Nebraska 30-13 in the Capital One Bowl, finished the season ranked #9.
Best win: If not the bowl win, then the 45-42 win over the Dawgs in Athens, of course.
Worst loss: A 16-13 home loss to an Auburn team that turned out to not be all that good.
Returning starters: 14 (seven offense, six defense, one special teams).
Stock watch for 2012: Down, perhaps, but not by much. The 'Cocks lose a number of important pieces on defense, not the least of which is Melvin Ingram, the defensive end who embarrassed the Dawgs several times over last season. As long as they have super-sophomore Jadeveon Clowney to anchor that line, though, they'll be in decent shape. And while they lose the two biggest pieces of their passing game in receiver Alshon Jeffery and QB Stephen Garcia, this really has never been a typical Spurrier throw-it-all-over-the-place offense. Certainly not since running back Marcus Lattimore arrived in Columbia, and he's back to terrorize SEC defensive lines after missing half of the 2011 season with a knee injury
Best-case scenario (from the Dawgs' perspective): The rapidly improving Dawg defense makes a major statement by finally figuring out how to stop Lattimore, and Georgia outlasts Carolina in the kind of grueling defensive struggle that (until recently) typified this series. The Bulldog D should be salivating for revenge against Lattimore at this point, considering that he's gashed them for 358 yards and three TDs in their two meetings thus far. This game is taking place far enough into the season that Lattimore's knee injury shouldn't be affecting him anymore, but he may have to shoulder a heavier burden now that the passing game is rebuilding. The Gamecocks may not miss Stephen Garcia's erratic play, but his replacement, Connor Shaw, averaged only 22 passing attempts per start in 2011 and will certainly miss the athleticism and sure hands of Alshon Jeffery. If the Bulldog secondary -- which, to Spurrier's highly amusing consternation, will be back at full strength by this game -- can reduce the Gamecock aerial attack to an afterthought, then the front seven can zero in on Lattimore and turn this into the type of game the Dawgs have proven they know how to win.
Worst-case scenario: Shaw holds his own, opening up opportunities for Lattimore and sending Georgia to another defeat -- which would not only put the Dawgs well behind the 8-ball in the SEC East race, it'd also mark their first three-game losing streak to South Carolina in the program's history. Face it, Bulldog Nation -- as much as you might hate to give props to either the Ol' Ballcoach or the Gamecock fan base, the struggles at Tennessee and Florida have opened a door for the 'Cocks to become Georgia's main obstacle to the division title. Carolina isn't a perfect team by any stretch, but Spurrier finally has a game-breaking tailback and a game plan that plays to his strengths, and as we've seen, he won't hesitate to bludgeon the Dawgs to death with it, even if it means he doesn't get to chuck it down the field 50 times a game like he did at Florida. Last year's bounce-back by Richt and the Bulldogs was certainly impressive, but for that reclamation project to be complete, they've got to prove they can dominate the good teams on their schedule and not just the scrubs -- and for now, at least, Spurrier's Gamecock squad is the bellwether.