South Carolina and No. 2 Georgia will kick off their conference schedules when the border-state and SEC East rivals meet in Athens, Georgia, for a Saturday night showdown Between the Hedges. Though the Bulldogs are heavy favorites, the memories of a stunning home loss to the Gamecocks in 2019 at Sanford Stadium will serve as a reminder that nothing ever comes easy in the SEC.
The Bulldogs have won five of the last six in the series after the Gamecocks enjoyed a run of four wins in five years from 2010 to 2014 while coached by Steve Spurrier. But the 2019 defeat marked the only regular-season loss for a Georgia team that -- like these 2021 Bulldogs -- entered the game with College Football Playoff aspirations.
South Carolina's coach for that 2019 upset, Will Muschamp, is now serving as Georgia's special teams coordinator and should have plenty of intel on the Gamecocks' personnel since he signed many of the players on the roster. But first-year South Carolina coach Shane Beamer is a former Georgia assistant under Kirby Smart who possesses plenty of familiarity with the Georgia program. Those connections and the spectacle of a game under the lights "Between the Hedges" creates a compelling SEC matchup that should help provide answers about both teams.
Georgia vs. South Carolina: Need to know
South Carolina's secondary test: The defensive group with the most questions entering the season was the secondary, which is relying largely on unproven talent after the departures of several key players. The group performed well against Eastern Illinois and East Carolina, allowing a combined 230 yards passing in those contests, but much of that success was attributable to a good pass rush against overmatched foes. So how will the Gamecocks' secondary respond if the front seven is unable to consistently pressure the quarterback? Georgia is still figuring out who its explosive players are on the perimeter, but don't be surprised if the Bulldogs take a few early shots and try to find pressure points on the South Carolina back end.
Georgia's QB situation: Georgia starting quarterback JT Daniels did not play in the Bulldogs' 56-7 thrashing of UAB last week due to an oblique injury. Fill-in Stetson Bennett thrived, going 10-of-12 for 288 yards with five touchdowns and earning SEC co-offensive player of the week honors. Daniels' health is improving, but if the veteran Bennett can keep the offense going at a high level, it may behoove Georgia to allow Daniels more time to heal. In an ideal world, the Bulldogs would open up an early lead like they did against South Carolina last season, allowing Bennett and redshirt freshman quarterback Carson Beck to guide the ship into port without any drama.
Georgia's run game is due: Georgia threw a stable of running backs at South Carolina last season while racking up 332 yards on the ground in a dominant 45-16 victory that required only 16 pass attempts from Daniels. Daijun Edwards, Kenny McIntosh, Zamir White and James Cook each ran for more than 75 yards in that game as the Bulldogs asserted their will against a South Carolina team playing under interim coach Mike Bobo following Muschamp's firing. All four of those running backs returned and the Bulldogs are due for a breakout game on the ground after relatively subdued success in the run game during their first two victories. South Carolina did a fair job containing the run in a dramatic 20-17 win at East Carolina last week, but the Gamecocks will be hard-pressed to replicate that success against Georgia's physical line and running back depth.
How to watch Team vs. Team live
Date: Saturday, September 18 | Time: 7 p.m. ET
Location: Sanford Stadium -- Athens, Georgia
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Georgia vs. South Carolina prediction, picks
Georgia has only beaten South Carolina by 31 or more points once since 1974. While the Bulldogs are clearly the more talented team in this matchup, their thrashing of UAB created an inflated sense of their offensive progress. The chances of the Bulldogs getting three passing touchdowns of at least 60 yards and a defensive touchdown again are slim. Smart's appetite to brutalize his former assistant in their first meeting will likely be minimal, which should allow South Carolina to squeak out a cover. Prediction: South Carolina (+31)
Which college football picks can you make with confidence in Week 3, and which Top 25 favorite goes down hard? Visit SportsLine to see which teams will win and cover the spread -- all from a proven computer model that has returned over $3,500 in profit over the past five-plus seasons -- and find out.