In college and professional sports, everyone knows that the best team doesn't always win. For the second straight season in the SEC East, the best team is once again hurt by strength of schedule.
Despite going undefeated in the SEC East in 2011 and defeating Georgia in their own backyard, the Gamecocks sat at home and watched the second-best team get railroaded by LSU in the SEC Championship game.
Before I crown the Gamecocks, I do remember that they were beaten handily by the SEC West division champion the season before in the SEC Championship game. I'm not saying South Carolina would have represented the division better than Georgia, but they certainly deserved the chance to play.
Looking back at 2011, it's not like the Gamecocks were completely innocent. They lost at home to an inept Auburn team when their offense and QB Stephen Garcia were unable to sustain any drive, and their defense finally collapsed after being on the field for over 90 plays. If the Gamecocks win that game, not only do they play in the SEC Championship game, they also had an outside chance at being national champions if they happened to defeat LSU.
But South Carolina lost and Georgia took advantage.
For the second straight year, Georgia doesn't play Alabama, LSU and Arkansas in the regular season. Alabama was originally scheduled to rotate onto Georgia's schedule, but Missouri was added and Ole Miss became Georgia's cross-division rotating team.
Alabama, LSU and Arkansas had a combined 67-12 overall record (.848) over the past two seasons. Georgia's 2012 opponents went 112-94 (.544) in 2010 and 2011.
It's pretty clear that the SEC East race will once again come down to the Gamecocks and the Bulldogs. In comparing their schedules, the toughest road game Georgia plays outside of traveling to Columbia, is when they travel to well, Columbia, to face Missouri. The other two SEC "road" games they play are at Kentucky and Auburn (they play Florida at a neutral site in Jacksonville).
Meanwhile, the Gamecocks travel to play USA Today Preseason No. 1 LSU, Kentucky and unlike the Bulldogs, don't get the benefit of playing the Gators on a neutral field. Add in a home game against Arkansas (while the Bulldogs crossover opponent at home is conference doormat Ole Miss) and once again, it seems the SEC schedule makers have gift-wrapped another SEC East title for Georgia.
All of this could prove meaningless if the Bulldogs (who are ranked higher in both polls than the Gamecocks) take care of business and defeat South Carolina (something they have not done since 2009). However, if the Gamecocks top Georgia, the Bulldogs will once again discover that it's not always the best team that prevails, but the team that has the easiest schedule.
Before Georgia fans start sending me hate mail, let's see how this plays out. The Gamecocks have perhaps the most talent they have ever had in school history. While Georgia is used to being on the national stage, the Gamecocks are walking on new ground.
Since South Carolina has never really faced dealing with "expectations," they could fall flat on their face. However, with the best RB in not only the SEC, but perhaps the nation, a front seven that is one of the best in the country, a blossoming QB with gazelles at WR and TE, and the 'ol ball coach back to his cocky, arrogant self, the Gamecocks should be a fun team to watch this season.
It's high times for the school that resides in the state capital, as their baseball team—coming off consecutive championships in 2010 and 2011—reached the championship round in the College World Series before falling to Arizona. While their men's basketball team struggled this season, their women's team reached the Sweet 16.
For many years, South Carolina was an automatic win for the rest of their SEC opponents. Little changed despite Steve Spurrier's arrival in 2005, as they never won more than nine games until last season when they set a school record with 11 wins.
The change from doormat to champion officially took place in 2010, however, as the Gamecocks won their first SEC East title. After going just 18-22 in the SEC, which included a 12-13 record against SEC East opponents, South Carolina has gone 11-5 in league play the last two seasons—which includes a 9-1 mark against the East culminating with last season's perfect 5-0 mark.
Sadly for the Gamecocks, that might not be good enough again in 2012 since the schedule-makers have put them behind the 8-ball before the season has started.