This time last year, I conducted what had become our annual survey to see which game you thought would be the toughest for the Dogs, other than the showdown in Jacksonville.
Because of the Florida game’s history over the previous couple of decades, I had decided to put it in a category all its own. It was, of course, the toughest game Georgia would face. The monkey on their back. The discussion was over which game was the next toughest.
But no longer. I think it’s fair to say there’s been a sea change in the SEC East over the past couple of years and, at least for now, I don’t believe the Florida game qualifies any longer as the automatic biggest hurdle on the Dawgs’ schedule.
Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks have taken over that spot.
Consider: South Carolina, which last year was picked by 65 percent of Junkyard Blawg readers voting in the poll as the likely toughest game on the schedule aside from Florida, has won two in a row against Georgia, which beat Florida last year.
Yes, I know I said a few weeks ago that I consider the showdown with Florida a more important game than South Carolina, and that’s still the case. Because, let’s face it, the Dawgs can lose to the Gamecocks and still win the SEC East if they win the rest of their conference schedule (which admittedly is again easier than the Gamecocks’ schedule this year). Plus, winning two in a row in Jacksonville would pretty much park the “jinx” talk on the back shelf.
But we’re not talking most important game here, or the game you most want Georgia to win. We’re looking at which game will be the toughest for the Dawgs, and I don’t think there’s much argument there. Most college football observers are picking the Oct. 6 game in Columbia as the most likely loss in a Bulldog schedule that otherwise is deemed quite manageable.
The fact that many of those picking the Gamecocks to beat Georgia are also picking Georgia to win the SEC East again in spite of that drives Spurrier absolutely crazy.
Is this a great world, or what?
So, for the sake of this exercise at least, let’s stipulate that South Carolina is the toughest game on the schedule, thanks in large part to the Gamecocks’ perennially tough defense, the assumed presence of a healthy Marcus Lattimore in the lineup and the fact that Spurrier wants it practically more than life itself.
The Bulldogs certainly don’t want to lose a third consecutive year to South Carolina for the first time ever, but it wouldn’t derail their season.
So, let’s turn out attention to which game besides South Carolina looms as Georgia’s toughest challenge.
Is it the Gators, who are still going through their post-Urban renewal? You could make a good argument that because of the series’ history and the rivalry between the two programs (and the closeness of last year’s game thanks to Georgia’s awful special teams play) that the Jacksonville classic is the next toughest game on the 2012 schedule. Florida should be tough on defense, but at this point they’re still a big question mark offensively.
From what I’m hearing, though, more fans are concerned about the conference opener against Missouri. Not only will it be Mizzou’s SEC debut — which means they’re sure to be jacked for it — but Georgia is entering the game with an automatic handicap in having several defensive starters suspended. Plus the Dawgs will be going without last year’s SEC freshman of the year at tailback. Also, recent history shows Mark Richt’s teams have a tendency to get off to a slow start early in the season, especially on offense. And Tigers quarterback James Franklin probably will be the most dangerous two-way threat Associate Head Coach Todd Grantham’s defense will face all season.
As for the rest of the non-cupcake part of the schedule, there’ll probably be a bit more interest in the game with Vandy this year, thanks to the chippy nature of last year’s visit to Nashville, but it still would require a definitely subpar performance on the part of the Dawgs for the Commodores to win in Athens.
Kentucky has been known to be surprisingly tough against the Dawgs in recent years, but on paper it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen this year.
Ole Miss? Still pretty much a disaster.
Auburn, of course, always has the potential to be a tough game, though the Tigers remain something of an unknown at this point.
And Georgia Tech and its tricky offense are always dangerous.
So how do I vote? I’m going with Missouri as the toughest game this season after South Carolina.
What about you? Feel free to share your comments, vote in the poll or do both.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg