After leading South Carolina to its first Southeastern Conference East Division championship last season with a 5-3 league mark, Gamecocks football coach Steve Spurrier developed a plan for attaining a second straight crown.
"I really thought before the season that if we could go 6-2 and beat Georgia, that would probably be good enough," Spurrier said Sunday afternoon, "but it doesn't look like it is. Give Georgia credit. They've won a bunch of close ones just like we have, and they're in position to go 7-1 in the league."
South Carolina finished with a 6-2 league mark by defeating Florida 17-12 on Saturday, its best league finish in 20 seasons as an SEC member, but now the Gamecocks are helpless spectators.
Georgia, by defeating Kentucky this week at Sanford Stadium, could bypass Spurrier's blueprint and clinch its first SEC East crown since 2005. The Bulldogs have never won seven consecutive league games in a single season, but they will be overwhelming favorites against the Wildcats, who already have four SEC losses by four touchdowns or more.
Spurrier's Gamecocks beat Kentucky 54-3 on Oct. 8.
"You always hold out a little hope, but Georgia's playing awfully well," he said. "I congratulate them for winning seven in a row. We had the same schedule except for one game. They played Ole Miss, and we played Arkansas, but that's the way it goes sometimes."
Kentucky lost 38-8 at Vanderbilt this past Saturday to fall to 4-6 overall, but the Wildcats are not without motivation this week.
By sweeping Georgia and Tennessee, the Wildcats could extend their program-record streak of five consecutive bowl appearances. The first four bowls occurred under Rich Brooks, with Joker Phillips keeping it going when he went 6-6 last year in his inaugural season before losing the BBVA Compass Bowl to Pittsburgh.
"It's definitely a huge challenge with Georgia playing for the Eastern championship," Phillips said. "We're now banged up and taking an even younger team on the road, but we've got to accept the challenge and get ourselves prepared the right way to give it our all."
The Bulldogs were unyielding in Saturday's 45-7 trouncing of Auburn, with Aaron Murray throwing four first-half touchdowns and the defense holding the Tigers to 195 total yards. Georgia now ranks second nationally in third-down defense (allowing a 27.9-percent conversion rate), fourth in total defense (allowing 273.3 yards per game) and fifth in rushing defense (87.1).
Kentucky, incidentally, ranks 118th out of 120 Bowl Subdivision teams in total offense with 273.5 yards a game.
"We're just playing good, and I'm thankful," Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said. "We're doing things that good defenses do, and that's stop the run most of the time. We're big up front, and we're physical."
Though a second straight East title has been all but lost, Spurrier is by no means sulking. His Gamecocks can attain their first 9-2 overall record since 1984 with a victory this week over The Citadel, and their win this past Saturday left them 6-0 the past two seasons against Florida, Georgia and Tennessee.
The Gamecocks had been 1-25 as an SEC member against Florida and Tennessee before Spurrier's arrival, and they've gone 7-7 since.
"Our guys do have a better record than last year's guys, and it's pretty neat what our guys have done," he said. "If Georgia had lost one along the way, we'd be celebrating back-to-back Easts, but they didn't, and that's the way it worked out."
Odds and Ends
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray leads the SEC and is 12th nationally with a 158.23 efficiency rating. ... Bacarri Rambo is second nationally in interceptions with .78 a game, while Jarvis Jones is tied for third with 1.0 sacks a game. ... Richt is hoping sophomore nose Kwame Geathers, who suffered an ankle sprain in the second quarter and did not return, can play this week.