2012 Georgia Football: How Oct. 6 Will Determine If Dawgs Are Contenders

Caleb HartleyCorrespondent IJanuary 4, 2012

This season was a roller coaster ride for the fans and players of the University of Georgia football program. The Bulldogs opened up the 2011 campaign with essentially two home games against nationally ranked teams, and they faltered.  

Ten consecutive wins later, and Georgia is playing against the top-ranked LSU Tigers in its first SEC Championship Game since 2005.  

The Bulldog defense allowed LSU 12 total yards and ZERO first downs in the first half, while having a 10-0 lead. I have no idea what happened in the locker room, or if LSU just woke up, but for the next 30 minutes of play they were dominated by the Tigers to the tune of 42 unanswered points.

The Outback Bowl against Michigan State seemed all too familiar for Dawg fans when they went into halftime leading 16-0. Kicking woes and conservatism spelled doom as Georgia fell in triple overtime.

When the SEC schedules were released on Dec. 27, the Bulldogs had to be grinning from ear to ear, as they have the easiest SEC schedule for 2012. South Carolina is no longer the first SEC game for Georgia on the second Saturday of the season.  

The newbies from Missouri will entertain Georgia for both teams' first conference game, but that will not be the game that will gauge whether these Bulldogs are the team that won 10 straight or the one who collapsed twice to close the season.

The one in Columbia, SC on Oct. 6 against the Gamecocks will be the game that the 2012 Georgia team will look back on as either a springboard to national relevance or an anchor that sinks the Bulldogs.

Sure, it is still the SEC, and every week is a challenge, but if Georgia comes out of the tussle with South Carolina unscathed, then there might not be a loss on their schedule. The Bulldogs can still lose to the Gamecocks and still win the SEC East. South Carolina has to play LSU and Arkansas, while Georgia has Ole Miss and Auburn.  

I don't think merely winning the East making it back to Atlanta for the SEC Championship is going to be the goal of the 2012 Georgia squad. They are thinking bigger.  

No matter what happens in this year's BCS National Championship, LSU could be even better next year, which would mean a rematch of the 2011 SEC Championship (think 2008 & 2009 with Alabama and Florida).

Depending on what happens Oct. 6, the SEC Championship could be the de facto national semifinal.

Circle the date, Dawg fans...