Growing up around Columbia I remember the hype surrounding the South Carolina-Georgia game; I remember the animosity toward the Bulldogs, and I remember how excited this town got before the game. But it hasn’t felt that way this week, even on campus.
Since the Gamecocks’ comeback fell short against Kentucky last week and Georgia opened as 17-point favorites this weekend, the morale among students hasn’t been high.
This is a far cry from even three years ago when Georgia and ESPN’s College GameDay came to Williams-Brice and the epicenter of college football was Columbia, South Carolina, for a day.
And since 2000, these games have shaped up to be instant classics. Nine times over the past 14 years has the game been decided by seven or fewer points. And over those years some great players have suited up for this game: Sidney Rice, Matthew Stafford, Connor Shaw and David Pollack.
And now it’s Pharoh Cooper and Nick Chubb’s turn in the spotlight.
But, even with the lack of interest from some of the fans, this game is a keystone for Gamecock success later down the road.
The Gamecocks are starting former walk-on Perry Orth, who makes his first college start between the hedges.
Best-case scenario? South Carolina goes down and beats Georgia on the road. If they can do that, it could be a springboard for success down the road.
A win against the No. 7 Bulldogs would require big performances out of the Gamecock offensive playmakers, something that hasn’t been prevalent through the first two games.
If Cooper and Orth have solid performances where they make big plays when needed, the Gamecocks offense averaging 19.5 points per game could get the jumpstart it needs.
An offensive explosion could give the Gamecocks some momentum with the meat of their schedule coming up with road games against Missouri , Texas A&M and Tennessee and a home game lingering against LSU.
A win would also mean the defensive side of the ball controls the line of scrimmage, limits the SEC leading rusher Chubb to minimal yardage and the secondary holds Georgia’s receivers in check.
Chubb’s the kind of guy defenses can’t really keep at bay, but if the Gamecocks can limit the damage done by the Heisman candidate, it could really help the morale of a defense giving up an average of 207 yards rushing per game.
And with backs such as Leonard Fournette and Jalen Hurd still on the schedule, the defense knowing it has the potential to stifle anyone it wants will be huge and could make for a formidable front seven through the last nine games.
Worst-case scenario? South Carolina travels and handily gets beat by the Dawgs.
A loss would push the Gamecocks to 1-2 and give them their first losing record through three games since 2008. It would also make them 0-2 in the SEC, something that also hasn’t happened since 2008.
If the offense can’t score, it’ll be hard to gain confidence or momentum going forward and if Chubb slashes through the defense it wouldn’t be a huge confidence boost for the Gamecocks.
And with two conference losses, and those tough games on the horizon, it could set up another .500 season or the first losing season under Steve Spurrier.
A lot can hinge on this game in terms of momentum, overall record and confidence going into the obstacle course that is the middle of the Gamecocks’ schedule.
So while fan interest isn’t as high as years past, this may be one of the more important South Carolina-Georgia games since Spurrier got to Columbia.