South Carolina opens Southeastern Conference play on Sept. 12, as it travels to Athens, Ga., to face longtime rival Georgia on a Saturday night "Between the Hedges" at Sanford Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. with a national television audience watching on ESPN2.The Gamecocks are 1-0 after a hard-fought 7-3 victory at NC State on Sept. 3. The Bulldogs dropped their opener on the road against No. 9 Oklahoma State, 24-10, on Saturday, Sept. 5. This is the first time since 1996 that South Carolina (1-0) has come into their game with Georgia (0-1) with a better record than the Bulldogs; SC won that 1996 meeting in Columbia, 23-14.
• This is the seventh time in school history the Gamecocks have opened with two straight games on the road. The last time was 1999, also against NC State and Georgia (both losses). In those seven seasons, Georgia has been one of the two opponents five times. Carolina has never started 2-0 in those years.
• South Carolina begins its 18th season of competition in the Southeastern Conference. The Gamecocks are 7-10 in league openers since joining the SEC for the 1992 season. Of those 17 league openers, 14 have come against Georgia.
• Georgia won last year's meeting in Columbia, 14-7. Neither team has topped the 20-point plateau in any of the last five meetings between the schools.
• The Gamecocks were picked to finish third in the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division for the first time since 2001. Georgia was tabbed to finish second.
• Only Clemson (106) has faced South Carolina more times than Georgia (61). Only Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Kentucky and Vanderbilt have faced Georgia more times than South Carolina.
GAMECOCKS AND DAWGS
This is the 62nd meeting on the gridiron between South Carolina and Georgia. Georgia holds a 45-14-2 lead in the all-time series, including a 25-7 advantage when the teams have played in Athens. The Bulldogs took home a 14-7 victory from Columbia last season, their fourth straight victory in Williams-Brice Stadium. The Gamecocks won the last time they visited Athens in 2007, posting a 16-12 victory.
IT'S USUALLY CLOSE...
Six of the last eight meetings between these two schools have been decided by seven points or less. The Gamecocks won by five (14-9) in 2001 and by four in 2007 (16-12), while Georgia posted a six-point win in 2002 (13-7), a four-point victory in 2004 (20-16), a two-point triumph in 2005 (17-15) and a seven-point margin last season (14-7)
...AND LOW SCORING
Might want to make sure the scoreboard operator has some coffee on hand. The winning team has not scored more than 20 points in any of the last five games between these two schools. It has only happened once in the last eight meetings.
AN OLD RIVALRY
After Saturday, Georgia and South Carolina will have met 62 times on the gridiron. No team except Clemson (101) has faced South Carolina more times in intercollegiate football competition. On the other side, Georgia, a charter member of the SEC, has faced only seven schools more times times than they have the Gamecocks (Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, Vanderbilt). The series dates to 1894, a 40-0 Georgia win in Columbia - the second game in the history of South Carolina football and the ninth in UGA annals.
South Carolina begins its 18th season of competition in the Southeastern Conference. The Gamecocks are 7-10 in their previous 17 conference openers, 14 of which have come against these Georgia Bulldogs. They are 5-9 when opening the league slate against the `Dawgs, and 2-1 when facing a different opponent. Last year, the 24th-ranked Gamecocks dropped their SEC opener to Vanderbilt on a Thursday night in Nashville, falling by a 24-17 score. It was the first loss in an SEC opener since 2005, when the Gamecocks opened 0-3 in league play before rolling off five straight wins to end the year.
THE LAST TIME THEY MET
Georgia tailback Knowshon Moreno's sliding 4-yard touchdown run in the third quarter lifted the Bulldogs to a 14-7 victory over the Gamecocks on Sept. 13, 2008, in Columbia. Reshad Jones sealed the victory for the Bulldogs, intercepting South Carolina's Chris Smelley's pass with 13 seconds left inside the Georgia 10. The Bulldogs had all offseason to remember how the previous September's 16-12 loss to South Carolina likely kept them from playing for the SEC and national titles. For much of this one, it looked like the Gamecocks could do it again as the Bulldogs trailed 7-6 midway through the third quarter. Georgia had already muffed a scoring chance near the goal line, settling for Blair Walsh's 23-yard field goal after having a third-and-goal at the South Carolina 1. Moreno, who finished with 79 yards on 20 carries, didn't squander the Bulldogs' next opportunity. He ran left, then took a hard cut up the middle with his feet sliding out from under him. Moreno steadied himself with his right hand, then slipped through for his seventh touchdown of the year. Matthew Stafford converted the 2-point try on a pass to Kris Durham and Georgia led 14-7. Moreno's TD was the first Georgia's scored in the past eight quarters against the Gamecocks. South Carolina had three chances in the fourth quarter to tie things up. The Gamecocks drove to Georgia's 2 midway through the period. But linebacker Rennie Curran smacked the ball free as tailback Mike Davis tried to leap the pile and it bounced into the arms of Georgia defensive back Asher Allen. South Carolina got to Georgia 17 in the final minute before Smelley was intercepted by Jones to keep the Gamecocks winless against teams' ranked in the top two. The Gamecocks' scoring play was a 34-yard touchdown pass from Smelley to Moe Brown in the second quarter.
BEST SEC ROAD WINS
The 2007 victory at 11th-ranked Georgia marked the highest-ranked SEC opponent that Carolina had defeated on the road since joining the league in 1992. Previously, the best Carolina road win was also against the Bulldogs during the 1993 season.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
It's not very often that South Carolina opens with two straight games away from Columbia. In fact, this is only the seventh time in 116 years of football that the first two contests were played outside the friendly confines of Williams-Brice Stadium. The last time was the 1999 season, which saw a very similar opening two games for Carolina - at NC State and at Georgia. The Gamecocks lost both games, 10-0 to the Wolfpack and 24-9 to the Bulldogs. Of the other five occurrences, Georgia has been one of the opponents on three occasions. In both 1993 and 1995, the Gamecocks opened with trips to Georgia and Arkansas. Carolina lost both contests in 1995, but defeated Georgia before losing to the Razorbacks in 1993. In 1962, Carolina lost at Northwestern and Duke to open the season; in 1941, the Gamecocks beat North Carolina but lost at UGA; and in 1911, Carolina lost at Georgia but defeated the College of Charleston.
THE LAST TIME IN ATHENS
South Carolina extended its winning streak to five games and snapped a five-game losing streak to Georgia when it went into Athens and came away with a 16-12 win on Sept. 8, 2007. The Gamecock defense stepped up to the challenge, keeping Georgia out of the end zone. It was the first time Georgia had been held without a touchdown at home since Carolina's 14-9 win in 2001. South Carolina won both sides of the line of scrimmage, outrushing the Bulldogs, 140-128. Ryan Succop hit all three of his field goal attempts, matching his career high, and scored 10 of the Gamecocks' 16 points, earning SEC Special Teams Player of the Week honors.
THE HBC AND GEORGIA
South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier owns a 12-4 record against Georgia. He was 11-1 while head coach at Florida with his lone loss coming in the 1997 season. He is 1-3 in his four tries while in charge of the Gamecock program. His squads have scored 30 or more points in nine of 16 contests against the Bulldogs.
THE HBC VS. RICHT
Steve Spurrier has faced Georgia's Mark Richt five times as a head coach, winning two of those contests. He won the 2001 meeting in his last season as head coach at Florida, then is 1-3 since taking over the Carolina program in 2005. Richt was also an assistant at Florida State from 1987 to 2000, in which time Spurrier went 5-8-1 against the Seminoles.
GEORGIA ON MY MIND...
South Carolina lists 14 players from the state of Georgia on its roster. Included are Eric Norwood (Acworth), Addison Williams (Atlanta), Chaun Gresham (Auburn), Terrence Campbell (Austell), Steven Singleton (Buford), DeMario Bennett (Douglas), Rokevious Watkins (Fairburn), Ronald Byrd (LaGrange), Kenny Miles (Lawrenceville), Ryan Broadhead (Leesburg), Josh Dickerson (Kingsland), Ladi Ajiboye (Riverdale), Chaz Sutton (Savannah) and Matthew Ansley (Valdosta).
AGAINST RANKED FOES
Georgia comes into this week's game ranked 21st in both national polls. The Gamecocks are 6-16 under Spurrier against opponents in the top 25. Here's a year-by-year breakdown:
• 2005: Carolina was 2-1 against ranked opponents, knocking off No. 23 Tennessee and No. 12 Florida after losing to No. 9 Georgia.
• 2006: Carolina was 1-5 against ranked opponents with their lone win coming against No. 24 Clemson. They had losses against No. 12 Georgia, No. 2 Auburn, No. 8 Tennessee, No. 12 Arkansas and No. 6 Florida.
• 2007: The Gamecocks were 2-3 against ranked opponents, winning over No. 11 Georgia and No. 8 Kentucky, but falling to No. 2 LSU, No. 17 Florida and No. 15 Clemson.
• 2008: Carolina dropped all three contests against ranked foes, falling to No. 2 Georgia, No. 13 LSU and No. 3 Florida.
LAST TIME OUT: NC STATE
Brian Maddox had a short touchdown run while Stephen Garcia completed a key third-down pass in the final minutes to help South Carolina beat North Carolina State 7-3 on Sept. 3 in Raleigh, N.C. Garcia threw for just 148 yards on a frustrating night for both offenses, but the sophomore came through with a 33-yard completion to Moe Brown that allowed the Gamecocks to run out the final 2 1/2 minutes. It gave South Carolina a second straight season-opening victory against the Wolfpack, who was shut out 34-0 in the 2008 meeting and failed to reach the end zone in the rematch. Maddox scored from 1 yard out in the first quarter and finished with 66 yards rushing. The Wolfpack managed just 133 yards, with all-Atlantic Coast Conference quarterback Russell Wilson throwing for just 74 yards while under steady pressure from the speedy South Carolina defenders.
NO OPENING JITTERS
With their win at NC State, the Gamecocks have now won 10 consecutive season-opening games dating back to the 2000 season. The last season-opening loss came at NC State in 1999.
THURSDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
In the Spurrier Era, South Carolina is now 5-2 in Thursday night contests, with four of those five victories coming in season openers.
SPEAKING OF THE POLLS...
After one game, South Carolina is still outside the top 25, but garnered more votes in both polls. Carolina picked up 23 votes in the coaches' poll (an increase of five) to place 34th while the AP voters gave the Gamecocks three votes, one more than the preseason poll, to place them 46th in that poll. Three SEC schools on the 2009 Gamecock slate are consensus preseason top-10 schools: Florida (1/1), Alabama (4/4) and Ole Miss (6/8). Georgia is close behind at 21st in both polls. Four more opponents are receiving votes in one or both polls, including Clemson, Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas. In addition, Week 5 opponent South Carolina State is ranked 15th in the FCS Coaches' Poll.
The Gamecocks officially return 12 starters from the 2008 squad (five on offense, six on defense and one specialist). The returning offensive starters are OC Garrett Anderson, WR Jason Barnes, OG Terrence Campbell, FB Patrick DiMarco and OT Jarriel King. The returning defensive starters include DT Ladi Ajiboye, FS Chris Culliver, DE Cliff Matthews, LB Eric Norwood, DT Nathan Pepper and S Darian Stewart. Junior Spencer Lanning is the returning punter and will handle placekicking duties this fall as well.
Seven Gamecocks made their first career starts last week against NC State: CB Akeem Auguste, CB Stephon Gilmore, SPUR Alonzo Winfield, OG T.J. Johnson, OT Quintin Richardson, WR Tori Gurley and DE Devin Taylor.
Nineteen Carolina athletes played in their first game in a Gamecock uniform at North Carolina State on Sept. 3: WR Alshon Jeffrey, TB Jarvis Giles, CB Stephon Gilmore, SS DeVonte Holloman, TB Bryce Sherman, CB Brandan Davis, TB Kenny Miles, LB Reginald Bowens, CB D.J. Swearinger, LB Tony Straughter, FB Dalton Wilson, OG T.J. Johnson, WR Tori Gurley, PK Adam Yates, WR D.L. Moore, TE Justice Cunningham, DE Chaz Sutton, TE Foxy Foxworth and DE Devin Taylor.
MORE NC STATE NOTES
• With the win at NC State, South Carolina snapped a three-game losing streak dating back to the 11th game of the 2008 season. The Gamecocks dropped games to Florida, Clemson and Iowa to end the `08 campaign.
• The Gamecocks held NC State to 133 yards in the game, the lowest total in the Spurrier Era and the lowest since the 1999 season - also NC State (99).
• Carolina's 7-3 win marked the first time since 1971 that the Gamecocks have won a game in which they scored fewer than 10 points. South Carolina defeated Memphis State that season, also by a 7-3 score.
• Brian Maddox's first-quarter touchdown gave the Gamecocks their first lead since the end of last year's Arkansas game, a span of 12-plus quarters.
• NC State's third-quarter field goal snapped a scoreless streak for the Wolfpack against South Carolina that dated back to the fourth quarter of the 1999 contest, a span of just under eight quarters.
South Carolina won seven of its first 10 games before finishing 7-6 overall, third in the SEC Eastern Division, and earning a berth in the 2009 Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla. All six losses came against schools that would eventually play in postseason bowl games, including SEC and National Champion Florida. The Gamecocks were 5-2 in the friendly confines of Williams-Brice Stadium and were 2-3 in road contests. It was the fifth-straight season at .500 or better for South Carolina, a feat not accomplished since the 1930s.
The Gamecocks played on New Year's Day or later for just the fifth time in school history and for the first time since the 2001 season, as they were invited to the Outback Bowl in Tampa on January 1 to face the Iowa Hawkeyes. It marked the fifth-straight year in which the Gamecocks have been bowl-eligible, the longest streak in the modern era. The Hawkeyes came away with a 31-10 win, sending Carolina to its 10th loss in 14 bowl game appearances.
The Gamecocks had one of the nation's toughest schedules in 2008, facing four ranked opponents during the regular season. According to the NCAA, Carolina's schedule was ranked as the 26th-toughest in Division I football. Eight of South Carolina's 12 regular-season opponents played in a bowl game last year, with six of those teams posting victories. In addition, Wofford advanced to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, falling to James Madison in the first round.
TOUGH ROAD AHEAD
The 2009 Gamecock schedule is rated the nation's toughest, according to Phil Steele's 2009 College Football Preview magazine. Carolina is followed by Florida State, Oklahoma, Mississippi State and Minnesota in the top 5. The Gamecocks will face four of the top 13 teams in the country in 2008, according to the preseason polls. Florida is the top-ranked team in both polls. The Gators will make their way to Columbia on Nov. 14 in what is likely to be a nationally-televised contest. Alabama enters the season ranked fifth in both polls. Carolina will travel to Tuscaloosa on Oct. 17. Mississippi is eighth in the AP poll and 10th in the Coaches' rankings. The Rebels will visit Columbia for a Thursday night ESPN tilt on Sept. 24. Georgia begins the season ranked 13th in both polls. The Bulldogs play host to Carolina in the season's second contest, a 7 p.m. ESPN2 telecast on Sept. 12.
UNDER COACH SPURRIER
Head coach Steve Spurrier is 29-22 in his five seasons in Columbia. His 29 wins ranks seventh on the school's all-time list, four behind Lou Holtz. He tied the school record for wins (7) in his first season at the helm; tied for the most wins (15) in his first two seasons of any Carolina head coach; recorded the most wins (21) by a Carolina head coach in his first three seasons; and surpassed Warren Giese (25 wins from 1956-59) for the most wins by a coach in his first four seasons on the Carolina sidelines. He has logged a .500 or better record in four straight seasons, the first coach to do that at Carolina since the final four years of the Jim Carlen Era (1978-81). Coach Spurrier is the first coach in Carolina history to take his team to three bowl games in his first four seasons on the sidelines. He also has matched Jim Carlen and Joe Morrison for the most bowl appearances (3) as a Carolina head coach.
WINNING MORE OFTEN
The Gamecocks have posted five consecutive seasons of at least a .500 record, going 6-5 in 2004, 7-5 in 2005, 8-5 in 2006, 6-6 in 2007 and 7-6 in 2008. It's the first time they have accomplished that since 1928-34.
Steve Spurrier made numerous changes to his coaching staff in the off-season, promoting Ellis Johnson to assistant head coach-defense and bringing in Jay Graham (running backs/asst. special teams), Jeep Hunter (tight ends/asst. special teams), G.A. Mangus (quarterbacks), Lorenzo Ward (defensive coordinator), Eric Wolford (offensive line/running game coordinator) and Craig Fitzgerald (strength and conditioning).
The Gamecocks averaged 80,529 fans for their seven home games in 2008. That average ranked 17th in Division I football, up two spots from the 2007 season. Seven of the top 20 schools in home attendance hail from the SEC.
The Gamecocks have played just two overtime games in their history, both at Tennessee. They dropped a 23-20 decision in Knoxville on Sept. 27, 2003, then fell by a 27-24 score on Oct. 27, 2007, also at Neyland Stadium. Every other SEC team has played at least three overtime games since the rule was established in 1996.
PIPELINE TO THE NFL
South Carolina tied for having the second-most players selected in the 2009 NFL Draft of any school in the nation, matching Oregon State and Ohio State for that honor behind Southern California. Selected were:
• Jared Cook (3rd round, Tennessee)
• Kenny McKinley (5th round, Denver)
• Jasper Brinkley (5th round, Minnesota)
• Jamon Meredith (5th round, Green Bay)
• Captain Munnerlyn (7th round, Carolina)
• Stoney Woodson (7th round, N.Y. Giants)
• Ryan Succop (7th round, Kansas City)
SERVING OUR COUNTRY
Deep snapper Matthew Grooms joined the Gamecocks after serving as a corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps for four years as a mechanic, included a six-month stint in Iraq. Grooms, a junior, is the oldest player on the squad, as he turned 26 on July 8. Grooms is a native of McColl, S.C., where he played for Marlboro County. Walk-on freshman linebacker Matthew Ansley, a member of the Army Reserves, spent 18 months in Iraq, working as a gunner for convoy security and route clearance.
COMING IN EARLY
The Gamecocks welcomed in three scholarship players who graduated from high school in December and went through spring drills for the first time in 2009 in Jarvis Giles, Stephon Gilmore and DeVonte Holloman. Over the past four seasons, the Gamecocks have seen nine players arrive on campus earlier than the norm. Clark Gaston did so in 2006, while Stephen Garcia and Travian Robertson arrived in January 2007. Jay Spearman, C.C. Whitlock and Shaq Wilson all went through spring drills in 2008 after graduating from high school in the previous December.
IN THE CLASSROOM
The Gamecocks had 24 players named to the 2008 SEC Fall Academic Honor Roll. Included were Pierre Andrews, Yvan Banag, Tommy Beecher, Ryan Broadhead, Patrick DiMarco, Stephen Flint, Foxy Foxworth, Marque Hall, Lemuel Jeanpierre, Alex McGrath, Jamon Meredith, Travian Robertson, Hardee Sanders, Chris Smelley, Cedrick Snead, Justin Sorensen, Nate Spurrier, Scott Spurrier, Ryan Succop, Charles Turner, Chris Vaughn, Addison Williams, Stoney Woodson and Greg Wright. The Gamecocks also posted the best GPA in team history during the 2009 spring semester with a 2.669.
South Carolina celebrates three major anniversaries during the 2009 season. This year marks the 75th year of competition in what is now Williams-Brice Stadium. The 80,250-seat structure on George Rogers Drive held its first game on Oct. 6, 1934, as South Carolina defeated VMI, 22-6. Two other significant celebrations are on tap this season as well. It's the 40th anniversary of South Carolina's only conference championship as the 1969 Gamecocks won the Atlantic Coast Conference title under head coach Paul Dietzel by going 5-0 in league play. This year is also the 25th anniversary of the 1984 "Black Magic" team that posted the winningest season in school history, going 10-2 under head coach Joe Morrison and rising as high as No. 2 in the polls.
South Carolina needs just two more wins in 2009 to make the 2000s the winningest decade in school history. Since 2000, the Gamecocks have 62 overall wins, just one shy of the all-time mark set in the 1980s. In that decade, the Gamecocks rolled up 63 victories, including 10 by the 1984 "Black Magic" team.
South Carolina has just nine players on its roster who are seniors. Of those, Lemuel Jeanpierre, Nathan Pepper and Gerrod Sinclar are fifth-year seniors, while Garrett Anderson, Moe Brown, Eric Norwood and Darian Stewart are in their fourth year. Former walk-ons John Guerry and Scott Spurrier earned scholarships during fall practice. With only nine seniors, the Gamecocks are tied with Duke for the second-fewest seniors in the country. Boise State has the fewest with four.
O CAPTAIN, MY CAPTAIN...
Although defensive back Captain Munnerlyn has taken his talents to the NFL, the Gamecocks have no shortage of leadership. Four captains were elected for the first time in the Spurrier era, two of them on the defensive side of the ball. Senior LB Eric Norwood and junior DE Cliff Matthews were the two defensive selections, with senior WR Moe Brown and junior FB Patrick DiMarco picked from the offensive side of the ball.
EARNING THEIR KEEP
On August 18, coach Steve Spurrier announced that several walk-ons had been awarded scholarships for the 2009-10 school year. The list includes seniors John Guerry and Scott Spurrier, juniors Darantzy Brunson and Blake Baxley, and sophomores Stephen Flint, Cedrick Snead, Brandan Davis and Zac Brindise.
The Gamecocks come in all shapes and sizes. The tallest player on the roster is Clifton Geathers, who checks in at 6-8 this fall. He is followed closely by his backup, Devin Taylor. The shortest players are Cedrick Snead, Bryce Sherman and Scott Spurrier, all listed at 5-6. The Gamecocks have eight players that tip the scale at 300 pounds or better, including seven offensive linemen. Rokevious Watkins is the heaviest player on the squad at 340 pounds, followed by Jarriel King at 312. Kevin Young (310), Heath Batchelor (308), Garrett Anderson (307), Seaver Brown (303), Nathan Pepper (300) and Steven Singleton (300) round out those at three bills. Scott Spurrier (160) and C.C. Whitlock (173) are the only returning players listed under 175 pounds. Newcomers Jimmy Legree (170), DeAngelo Smith (170), Bryce Sherman (155), Brandan Davis (175) and Marty Markett (170) all tip the scales at 175 or less.
Junior linebacker Rodney Paulk suffered a season-ending ACL tear in his right knee in the season-opening win at NC State. It's the second straight year that a knee injury has sidelined him early in the season.
The Gamecocks will begin their 75th season at Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 19, as they play host to Florida Atlantic. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m., and the game will be televised on a pay-per-view basis.