COLUMBIA -- The air's a little chillier than most South Carolina-Georgia games, but this week’s atmosphere just feels right.
Instead of having the standard September meeting, the Gamecocks and Bulldogs meet Saturday with major SEC East implications, and on a network where the rivalry has blossomed since USC joined the SEC in 1991.
Saturday’s game will be on CBS, the home for the SEC since the 1990s and where many SEC fans tune in for that week’s marquee matchup in the conference.
“We really don’t think about that. We like to take it one game at a time. We like to just stay where our feet are and take one day at a time,” running back A.J. Turner said. “We know on Saturday we have to bring our A game. This is a great team we’re going to play against.”
A win would be the Gamecocks’ first in Athens since 2011 and move them one game behind the Bulldogs in the SEC East with the tiebreaker and one game to play.
But this feels right. Over the last few years, aside from the two previous matchups, the South Carolina-Georgia game has held monumental weight across the SEC.
Saturday has that kind of feel to it, and Sanford Stadium should be electric as the Gamecocks come into town.
“Our guys understand this is a big game. I don’t need to tell them that. They get that part of it. I just think that the methodical approach of how we go about it,” head coach Will Muschamp said. “We don’t treat anything differently. Our meetings aren’t any longer. There’s no more emphasis on what we are trying to do.”
South Carolina has played on CBS 18 times since 2000 with Georgia being the most frequent opponent at five match-ups. The Gamecocks have also played Florida five times on CBS with the most recent matchup last year in Gainesville.
The Gamecocks (6-2, 4-2 SEC) are 1-4 against Georgia on CBS but won the most recent matchup, a 38-35 upset at home in 2014.
Saturday is also the second time in the last decade South Carolina faces the No. 1 team on CBS. The last time? A 35-21 upset over Alabama.
A win would knock Georgia out of that top spot in the polls and out of the college football playoff picture for now.
Right now, the Gamecocks, who locked up bowl eligibility last week, don’t feel much pressure going to Athens. But USC wants to come out and prove they’re good enough to compete with the nation’s best.
“I don’t think we’ve gained the recognition that we deserve, especially defensively,” linebacker T.J. Brunson said. “I think this game is a statement game that can send a message to the nation.”
This is the kind of game Gamecock fans have hoped for — yearned for — since Muschamp took over last season: primetime, postseason implications and against a hated rival to boot.
But for the Gamecocks, it’s just another week with a little added fanfare. The Bulldogs are just another opponent, albeit a formidable one, standing in South Carolina’s way of achieving its goals.
So Saturday’s game will be a return to the norm for both teams, both fan bases, with Sanford a sea of red and the barks reverberating through the concrete bowl.
And the Gamecocks wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Our goal is to win the East, and that’s what we’ve been working toward this summer, spring practice, fall camp, that’s what we break down every team meeting with. We know what our goals are. We’ve always had that mindset of making it to Atlanta,” Jake Bentley said. “We’re going to put all of our effort and energy into this game Saturday.”
Hurst is Burlsworth nominee
For the second straight year, University of South Carolina tight end Hayden Hurst has been nominated for the Burlsworth Trophy. The award is named in honor of Brandon Burlsworth, former University of Arkansas walk-on and All-American offensive lineman. It is given to the most outstanding football player in America who began his career as a walk-on and has shown outstanding performance on the field.