South Carolina vs. Georgia: Could a Loss on Saturday Be Curtains for Mark Richt?

Paul CookContributor IIISeptember 7, 2011

COLUMBIA, SC - SEPTEMBER 11:  Georgia Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt watches the action on the field during the game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Williams-Brice Stadium on September 11, 2010 in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)
Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

On a chilly night in early November 2008, South Carolina soundly defeated a struggling Tennessee team helmed by then-coach Phil Fulmer.  The Vols suffered an uncharacteristic 27-6 drubbing at the hands of the Gamecocks that night, and by the time the smoke had cleared, Fulmer was out of a job.

This Saturday, the Gamecocks can send another SEC head coach limping into a cushy gig as a color commentator.  If Mark Richt's Georgia Bulldogs drop to 0-2 on the season, it's a pretty safe bet that his own mother will be calling for his job. 

The firing of Phil Fulmer in 2008 was significant because it signaled to the rest of the East that South Carolina could have a meaningful impact not only on the division race, but also on the employment prospects of some of its mightiest figures.  As improved as South Carolina has been in recent years, losing to the Gamecocks is still not quite the same thing as losing to Alabama or LSU.  Fulmer found this out the hard way.     

And Tennessee hasn't really recovered their swagger since.

In order for South Carolina to complete their transformation from occasional SEC party-pooper to perennial powerhouse, the Gamecocks must flip the script on programs like Georgia and Florida.  Beating the Bulldogs on Saturday would extend the "streak" to two years in a row, but more significantly, it would further cement the Gamecocks' emergence as a team to beat in the East.  

Some purists lament these seismic shifts of power in conferences like the SEC.  These are the "traditionalists," folks who want to keep Florida, Georgia and Tennessee at the top of the standings every year regardless of where their specific loyalties may lie.  Nothing could be further from the spirit of college football, and I've never completely understood the thinking behind the traditionalist's perspective.

Regardless, as I wrote back in July, losing to South Carolina on Saturday doesn't just put Richt's job in jeopardy, it also means the burden of proof shifts just a little more.  

For years, South Carolina has had to fight to be taken seriously in the SEC East.  Now it might be Georgia's turn to prove that they belong in elite SEC team discussions. 

Either way, once you lose your sacrosanct status as one of the "chosen," it takes a lot more than snazzy new uniforms and a coaching change to get your swagger back.

And if you don't believe me, just ask Derek Dooley.