By Chris Mahr
One month into the season people are still ready to anoint the SEC West champion, i.e. the Alabama–LSU winner, as one of the two BCS championship game participants. And so the hype for the Tide’s and the Tiger’s next game, Nov. 3 in Baton Rouge, is already full steam ahead.
This despite the fact that it’s not even the best SEC game on the calendar this year.
That honor belongs to Georgia–South Carolina, which is also ESPN’s Saturday Night Game of the Week. No. 5 (Georgia) vs. No. 6 (South Carolina). Two of the most talented rosters in the SEC and the country on an annual basis (not to mention ones that produce a lot of NFL players).
Need some other reasons why this should be your must-watch game of the SEC season? Observe.
Star Power, Particularly on Offense
Yes, A.J. McCarron and Eddie Lacy have Alabama scoring more than at any point during the Tide’s two BCS title seasons. And Zach Mettenberger, Ron Burgundy fashion choices and all, has for the most part given LSU fans optimism at quarterback.
But neither of those teams has offensive stars like Georgia and South Carolina do.
In Aaron Murray, the Bulldogs could have their second first-round NFL selection at quarterback in the last four years (Matthew Stafford having gone No. 1 overall in 2009). He’s already thrown for 12 TDs through Georgia’s first five games and is averaging a hefty 15.5 yards/completion.
He’s getting a lot of help from two North Carolina-bred freshman tailbacks, Todd Gurley (536 yards and nine TDs) and Keith Marshall (428 yards and five TDs). Both of them broke long touchdown runs in the Bulldogs’ 51-44 victory over Tennessee on Saturday, and it won’t be the last time they do so.
But it will be some time until either can match the physicality of the Gamecocks’ workhorse star. After playing cautiously in his first four games back following a season-ending knee injury in 2011, RB Marcus Lattimore was back to his old self in a 120-yard, two-TD performance against Kentucky last Saturday that South Carolina desperately needed.
If Georgia’s defense is as generous on the ground as they were against the Vols (197 yards), you’ll be sure the Gamecocks will play clock control with Lattimore all night.
And South Carolina can win this game with some studs on defense, too. They are yet to allow more than 17 points in any game this year, and ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor could make life very hard on Murray. On the other side, LB Jarvis Jones could be the No. 1 overall pick in next April’s NFL draft.
It’s a treat for fans because he doesn’t have to abandon his zaniness like he would have been pressured to do if he stopped winning.
His Georgia counterpart, Richt, is much more buttoned up in comparison. But if it’s antics you want, let’s introduce you to Bulldog offensive lineman Watts Dantzler. He doesn’t quite possess the Head Ball Coach’s penchant for quick-witted barbs and replies, but his Twitter feed is hilarious.
Of course these teams will take this game seriously, but there will still be personality to burn.
Winner = Challenger to LSU–Alabama
Fans of college football don’t like pre-written narratives. And they don’t like seeing the same storyline playing out like it did the year before. So anything or anyone that can pose a threat to the LSU–Alabama power grab in the SEC is alright by them (and by us).
Whichever team wins on Saturday night and grabs the inside track in the SEC East race will pose that kind of threat. Georgia wasn’t ready last year when they were humbled by LSU in the conference title game. But this is a new year.
The SEC East isn’t the same weaker younger brother it’s been for the past three seasons, when the BCS champion emerged from its West counterpart. Georgia, South Carolina and Florida have all looked impressive en route to unbeaten starts to this season.
No need to wait until November. The SEC race starts in earnest Saturday night in Columbia.
Chris Mahr is the managing editor of Lost Lettermen. His column appears Tuesdays and Thursdays. You can follow him on Twitter at @CMahrtian.