As strange as it is to consider, the most important game of the weekend for South Carolina won’t be played in Orlando, Fla., this weekend. While the No. 12 Gamecocks are playing UCF on the road Saturday, the Gamecocks’ eventual fate this season will hang more on the Georgia-LSU game played later in the day.
Quarterback Connor Shaw said earlier this week that he isn’t thinking at all about what is going on in Athens, Ga., this weekend, and that’s the right answer. However, I’ll bet you the first thing Shaw and the rest of his teammates and coaches do when they leave the field at Bright House Networks Stadium is start asking folks what the score of that game is.
The Gamecocks, who fell 41-30 to No. 9 Georgia, need the No. 6 Tigers to beat the Bulldogs to keep South Carolina’s realistic hopes of an SEC East title alive. After this weekend, Georgia has only one game left against a ranked opponent, and that’s against the reeling Florida Gators. Georgia must lose two conference games to give the Gamecocks a chance to win the division this year, so if you South Carolina fans are not practicing your “Geaux Tigers!” cheer you should be.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at quick look at that game this morning. The Bulldogs are favored by three points in a nod to their home field advantage, but there are numbers here that make the Tigers the favorite in my mind. LSU is tied for third in the SEC in yards per play at 7.5 and is flourishing under first-year offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. The Tigers also are fifth in the conference in scoring defense, allowing 19.5 points per game. While the Bulldogs can match LSU’s offense (Georgia averages 7.8 yards per play), it can’t defensively. Georgia is 13th in the SEC in scoring defense (29.7 points per game). The Bulldogs clearly have played a tougher schedule thus far, but the eyeball test says that both teams have really good offenses but only one has a really good defense.
Georgia coach Mark Richt clearly senses the urgency of the moment for his team. The Bulldogs practiced in full pads Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, a rarity at Georgia or any other college football program during the regular season, and Richt is urging fans to all wear red to Sanford Stadium.
Elsewhere in the SEC, the biggest news is the season-ending injury to Florida defensive tackle Dominique Easley. The senior had been the most dominant defensive player in the SEC through four games and made the Gators defense one of the toughest in the country. His absence greatly increases the chances South Carolina will have success against Florida later this season. On the other hand, it also greatly increases the chances Georgia will be able to run the ball against the Gators in that matchup.
Outside the SEC, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said something that makes a lot of sense but that might not be great for the future of college athletics. As many college sports administrators seem to be rallying against any additional compensation for athletes, Delany said starting football and basketball minor leagues might solve the whole problem.
"Maybe in football and basketball, it would work better if more kids had a chance to go directly into the professional ranks," he told ESPN.com. "If they're not comfortable and want to monetize, let the minor leagues flourish. Train at IMG, get agents to invest in your body, get agents to invest in your likeness, and establish it on your own. But don't come here and say, 'We want to be paid $25,000 or $50,000.' Go to the D-League and get it, go to the NBA and get it, go to the NFL and get it. Don't ask us what we've been doing. If an athlete wants to professionalize themselves, professionalize themselves. We've been training kids for professional sports. I argue it's the color, I argue it's the institution. If you think it's about you, then talk to John Havlicek about that, you've got to talk to Michael Jordan about that. These brands have been built over 100 years."