Traditionally, the University of Georgia football program has three rivals.
Georgia Tech, Florida, and Auburn. All three schools played their first gridiron matchup against Georgia before the year 1905. Each pairing has occurred at least eighty times, with the Auburn and Georgia Tech series spanning over one hundred meetings.
All three rivalry games are staples of a fall season, however it can be said that rivalry exists between every team that sits east of the Mississippi River and south of the bluegrass. In Georgia's case, schools such as Clemson, Alabama, Tennessee, and LSU all are pretty disliked by Bulldog fans.
Georgia has a long series history with Clemson, which was neck-and-neck with the Dawgs during the 1980s. The sporadically occurring series between Georgia and Alabama has produced 65 games, including many notable upsets. And anyone who has followed Georgia football since the turn of the century knows there isn't an SEC team we can't stand more than the LSU Tigers.
From last year's heartbreaking ending, to the 2003 loss down in Baton Rouge, the Tigers have in more cases than not been a spoiler for Georgia. LSU fans can say the same, as Georgia usually follows a loss to LSU with a revengeful victory, including blow out wins in 2004, 2005, and 2008.
But if there is one rivalry outside the big three that gets Dawg fans revved up, it's the annual SEC opener between the "Silver Britches" and the "Garnet Army".
A few years back, Georgia fans were justifying the excitement of a victory over USC by saying, "It's always a good win when we beat Spurrier." Steve Spurrier is, of course, the most hated nemesis of the Georgia football establishment, as well as the current "head ball coach" of the Gamecocks.
But now a win over South Carolina means something. The Gamecocks have proved they are no pushovers. Since the turn of the century, the Georgia-South Carolina matchup has produced some of the closest, nail-biting, and nerve-wracking finishes.
It's always either one hundred degrees or pouring rain. It's always a game full of big hits, tons of team miscues, and impact plays.
And it always comes down to the wire. There is no doubt the Georgia-South Carolina game produces every year.
It might be the one of the bigger rivalry games of the season—if not the biggest.
The drama just never seems to be higher at another point in time in the season than it is at the beginning.
Florida always gets the best of Georgia. Georgia always gets the best of Georgia Tech. And, the Georgia-Auburn rivalry's name, "The Deep South's Oldest Rivalry", couldn't be closer to the truth. That game is so old it has lost its flavor.
The Georgia-Auburn game is usually more of a friendly classic than anything else. Plus, all three games happen towards the end of the year, when the stakes have been set and much of the developments of the season have taken place.
But not the South Carolina game. The South Carolina game is always full of uncertainty. Both teams usually enter the game 1-0, and have yet to answer all of the pending questions that existed in the preseason.
It always feels like the entire season is on the line, that this matchup is the most pivotal of all. Nobody wants to be 1-1 and 0-1 in conference to start the long season. Both teams feel like they have everything to play for, so no matter what the polls say, the game always goes down to the wire. Both teams always give the game all they have.
Really, each game during the course of the year carries the same amount of weight, especially in the SEC.
But the truth is, no matter how much someone tries to tell a UGA or USC fan different, this game is always where the season officially begins. It's the first step in the right or wrong direction.
Nerves are never more of a factor for the players, coaches, and fans. I like to call the game the "sweaty palms game." There is so much on the line, so much uncertainty in fact, that every snap of the game has you at the edge of your seat.
The nervousness might also come from the fact the rivalry has produced some of the most dramatic Georgia games during the Mark Richt era.
2002- Georgia won 13-7. David Pollack woke up a quiet Georgia team by intercepting a pass from point blank in the end zone for a touchdown. One of the classic plays in Georgia football history.
2004- Georgia would fall down 16-0 thanks to a pick-six and an amazing touchdown catch and run by Troy Williamson. However, David Greene led a second-half comeback, complete with a deep touchdown pass to Reggie Brown late in the fourth. Georgia won 20-16 and kept their SEC hopes alive.
2005- D.J. Shockley's first SEC start, after being named the player of the week by the SEC for the opener against Boise State. The Heisman campaign by Shockley came crashing down against South Carolina as the Gamecocks stifled the Georgia offense. Georgia would survive and win 17-15.
2007- South Carolina's second win against Georgia in the Richt era. The Gamecocks won 16-12, holding off a late drive by Georgia and recording an interception to end the game.
2008- The second-ranked Bulldogs got the best SC team possible, getting caught up in a "bloodbath" in Columbia that resulted in a 14-7 escape. A goal line fumbled forced by Rennie Curran and a late interception from Reshad Jones preserved the otherwise unimpressive victory.
2009- This one was an instant classic. South Carolina jumped all over the Bulldogs, taking an early 17-7 lead, but Georgia stormed back and won a shootout, 41-37, thanks to a knock down in the end zone by Rennie Curran.
Aside from a 2003 blowout, the average difference in score is always less than a touchdown. No matter how hyped or ignored each team is, both teams come to play for this game.
This week's game might be the biggest Georgia-South Carolina game in years. Both teams enter with a spot on the AP Top 25 and have expectations to reach the SEC title game. For the first time, the SEC East race appears to finally be a three horse race.
Unless one of the two teams can prove otherwise. A blowout of either team would be devastating to the victim, and incredibly beneficial to the victor.
Here's a preview of the weekend's matchup.
3 UGA Players to Watch
Aaron Murray (QB)- This will be Murray's first real test as a starting quarterback in the SEC. The hostile Williams-Brice Stadium crowd should make the experience for Murray a lot different than it was against Louisiana last week. It will be interesting to see if his composure can match where it was in the opener
Brandon Boykin (CB)- Boykin was a star in this game last year. He will match up against the Gamecocks' prized wide receiver, Alshon Jeffery. The players are five inches apart height-wise, but Boykin's vertical leap will make this match up a competitive one.
Tavarres King (WR)- No word on whether A.J. Green is coming back this week, but either way, Tavarres King will be getting his first look at wide receiver. King never really proved himself as a compliment to A.J. last year, but word is he had a good preseason and is more than ready to step in, following a one-game suspension. It'll be interesting to see how he can become a part of the offense with big, prototypical wide receivers like Marlon Brown and Kris Durham primed to start on both sides.
3 South Carolina Players to Watch
Stephen Garcia (QB)- Garcia has always had a bad reputation, but many think he is going to hit his breakthrough. It will all be on account of protection from his offensive line, who has failed him in the past. It will be important for Georgia to apply pressure on him. Considering we expect nothing more than pressure from Todd Grantham's scheme, it will be important to see if Garcia can finally handle the heat.
Marcus Lattimore (TB)- Lattimore, South Carolina's prized recruit and the No. 1 running back on most recruiting boards, had a good first showing against Southern Miss. South Carolina is full of top-recruit tailbacks, including Brian Maddox, Jarvis Giles, and Kenny Miles. We'll see how much Lattimore plays as a freshman, and how he handles his role.
Alshon Jeffery (WR)- Coming into his second year, this game should be a coming out party for Jeffery. The big and talented receiver has all of the tools within him and around him to be the most productive receiver in the SEC. He is a potential difference maker, and will be in a chess match with the Georgia defensive backs all game. Don't be surprised if Jeffery gets the results he wants all day long.
As stated in my preview article, I think Georgia gets out of here with a win. Yes, South Carolina is talented, but their two apparent weaknesses play right into Georgia's strength.
South Carolina's offensive line will have to prove they can block for Garcia against a good defense. Garcia will have to prove he can be a good quarterback when protected. And, the Gamecocks defense will have to finally stop the run game. Georgia's huge offensive line and slew of tailbacks could have tons of success.
There has been one report, by Dean Legge, that A.J. has been cleared to play this weekend. Also, Washaun Ealey, Alec Ogletree, and Tavarres King will return for Georgia. The Gamecocks are in even more trouble with the NCAA, and will miss a few players including star tight end Weslye Saunders.
I give a slight edge to Georgia, despite the raucous crowd and playmakers USC has at their disposal. A focused and calm Georgia team will keep the pressure off Aaron Murray, for the most part, and run their way to victory.
Kickoff is Saturday, 12:00 pm, from Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, SC. The game will be shown on ESPN2.