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2011 Georgia Football Schedule: SEC Opener Vs. Gamecocks Will Be Bigger Than Ever

The Georgia-South Carolina series has been a fairly lopsided affair -- the Dawgs lead the series 46-15-2 -- but for the first time in the rivalry's history, South Carolina will enter this year as the defending SEC East champions. This carries a particular sting for Georgia, as the Gamecocks' 17-6 win over the Dawgs in Columbia last year was their first big statement on the way to that title. A revenge victory for Georgia could propel them toward a similar achievement, or at the very least an important bounce back from last year's 6-7 finish, but like last year, they won't have A.J. Green to help them -- while South Carolina will have the services of running back Marcus Lattimore, who gashed the Dawgs for 182 yards as a true freshman.

Coach: Steve Spurrier, 44-33 in six seasons at South Carolina; 186-73-2 overall
Last season: 9-5, 5-3 SEC East (1st); lost to Auburn 56-17 in the SEC Championship Game; lost to Florida State 26-17 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl; ranked 22nd in the final AP poll
Returning starters for 2011: 13 (seven offense, six defense, zero special teams)
Key returners: RB Marcus Lattimore, QB Stephen Garcia, WR Alshon Jeffery, CB Stephon Gilmore
Key losses: DE Cliff Matthews, DT Ladi Ajiboye, WR Tori Gurley, P/K Spencer Lanning

Best-case scenario: The addition of John Jenkins at nose tackle gives the Dawgs' defensive front the chemistry it didn't have last year and clamps down on Lattimore enough that Stephen Garcia can't bail them out. Garcia did have the best season of his tumultuous Gamecock career last season, but make no mistake, it was Lattimore's running that powered this offense at the most critical junctures, his breakout performance against Georgia being just one example. He's the kind of runner that Todd Grantham's defense simply has to learn how to stop if the Dawgs are to become relevant to the SEC race again.

Worst-case scenario: The Dawgs suffer a hangover from the Boise State game (win or lose), one so severe that the Georgia secondary lets itself get torched by the Garcia-Jeffery passing combo. While the transition to a 3-4 was last year's biggest question on defense, this year the biggest personnel concerns may be in the secondary, which performed inconsistently last year and which has seen perhaps its best playmaker, safety Alec Ogletree, moved to linebacker. There's still a lot of raw talent back there, but very little proven production for them to hang their hats on. Meanwhile, receiver Alshon Jeffery may have had an even more impressive year than Lattimore did (1,517 yards, nine TDs) and has given Garcia the kind of go-to outlet Aaron Murray is sorely missing now that A.J. Green is gone. The Dawgs have what might be the toughest season-opening two-game stretch in the country, so to split the Boise State and South Carolina games would still offer reasons for hope. An 0-2 start, though, would put the Dawgs in a deep hole regardless of the quality of the opponents.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.