South Carolina enters Saturday's game against Georgia riding a three-game winning streak against the Bulldogs, but Gamecock coach Steve Spurrier believes a victory over their SEC East rivals isn't necessarily the key to winning an SEC Championship.
He has history to back him up. Only once in the current three-game winning streak has a victory over the Bulldogs catapulted the Gamecocks into the SEC Championship Game.
"We've been 6-2 (in the SEC) the last two years and have not gotten in, and they have," Spurrier said Sunday on his weekly teleconference. "We've lost two games to their one. It's pretty simple math. But again, who wins or who loses, it just proves that they're not in the driver's seat for anything."
Georgia's back-to-back SEC East titles despite losses to South Carolina are largely the result of a scheduling mulligan afforded the Bulldogs, who haven't had to play any of the top three teams in the SEC West, while the Gamecocks have had to face at least one.
That's enabled the Bulldogs each of the last two years to absorb the loss to South Carolina, knowing they'd likely get that one back later in the year when the Gamecocks lost to an Arkansas or an LSU.
Two years ago must have been particularly galling for Spurrier. In 2011, the Gamecocks were 6-2 in the SEC, including a 6-0 record against teams from the East. Losses to Western foes Auburn and Arkansas handed the SEC East title to the 7-1 Bulldogs. South Carolina would finish 11-2 overall. Georgia finished 10-4.
This year, the Gamecocks get the benefit of the scheduling mulligan, avoiding this year's big three from the West—Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU. Georgia has to play LSU on Sept. 28.
Spurrier is correct in assuming a loss to the Bulldogs on Saturday may not be a death blow to the Gamecocks' chances of winning the SEC East, which of course leads to a chance to win the league title, a berth in a BCS bowl game and maybe even the national championship game.
But despite Spurrier's comments to the contrary, a victory definitely places the Gamecocks squarely in the driver's seat in the East. Florida, the third team considered a top challenger, must come to South Carolina Nov. 16.
Georgia's season-opening loss to Clemson on Saturday also leaves South Carolina in position to totally squash the Bulldogs' national title hopes.
It would be sweet indeed for a South Carolina program that historically has been perceived as an SEC stepchild.
While Georgia has dominated the overall series 43-17-2, the Gamecocks have always been a wart on the Bulldogs' behinds.
When South Carolina joined the SEC in 1992 and began playing the Bulldogs on a yearly basis, it was an instant rivalry for the Gamecocks.
Not so for the Bulldogs, who despite sharing a geographical border with South Carolina, have always looked down their noses at the SEC "newcomers."
As a University of Georgia administrator once explained, there was simply no room on Georgia's schedule for another rivalry game.
"We've got the rivalry with Tennessee, with Auburn, Florida and Georgia Tech," he explained. "You can only have so many rivals."
Even with South Carolina's recent success, the Bulldogs consider themselves SEC blue bloods to the Gamecocks' nouveau riche.
Making South Carolina's recent success even more galling to the Georgia faithful is that the Gamecocks are beating them with a large contingent of players from the state of Georgia.
This year, South Carolina's roster has 28 players from Georgia. By contrast, the Bulldogs have two South Carolinians.
The two teams normally play in September, and for South Carolina, an early victory over Georgia has historically been the barometer of a successful season.
The Gamecocks have beaten the Bulldogs 13 times since 1978. In 10 of those 13 seasons, South Carolina made it to a bowl game.
For Spurrier, beating Georgia is simply a matter of routine. He's 15-5 against the Bulldogs, including a respectable 4-5 at South Carolina. His current three-game winning streak is the longest in school history against Georgia.
Perhaps this is the year South Carolina can beat Georgia and use it as a launching pad to something more than just a decent bowl game.
Even if the Gamecocks don't win Saturday, they're holding a mulligan that used to belong to the Bulldogs.
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