ATHENS — Fresh off the No. 1 placement in the season’s first College Football Playoff ranking, the Georgia football team will host unranked South Carolina. Check here for pregame updates and observations from Sanford Stadium in the lead-up to the game:
No changes to the defense from last week: Reggie Carter will start alongside Roquan Smith at inside linebacker, Malkom Parrish will be the star in the nickel package, with Aaron Davis and Deandre Baker the cornerbacks.
This should be the last week without Natrez Patrick, who is serving the final of a four-game suspension following his marijuana arrest.
There were also no noticeable changes on offense. Offensive line is the same, tailbacks and receivers are rotating, etc.
When you’re 8-0 and rolling like this, with basically no injuries to report, these pregame warm-ups become pretty boring.
‘The No. 1 team in the land’
Brooks Whitmire, the PA announcer at Sanford Stadium, proclaimed this game to feature South Carolina and … “The No. 1 team in the land Georgia Bulldogs.’
That brought a rousing cheer.
Those back in Athens
David Andrews, who went from unheralded Georgia recruit to starting center for the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, is on hand today. So are other Bulldogs from that era now in the NFL, including Jordan Jenkins and Brandon Boykin.
Knowshon Moreno is here too, reports Chip Towers, who has some star power himself.
Oh, a uniform update
Georgia is wearing red jerseys, as expected, for those of you wondering if they’d pull a surprise.
Also, the return of Bryan McClendon
South Carolina receivers coach and co-offensive coordinator is McClendon, the former Georgia receiver, assistant coach – and head coach for one game. McClendon was Georgia’s interim coach for a month at the end of the 2015 season, following Mark Richt’s departure for Miami and before Kirby Smart’s full-time arrival from Alabama.
McClendon and Smart may have discussed a role on Georgia’s staff but apparently the talks didn’t go that far. McClendon ended up taking the job on Will Muschamp’s staff, leaving a Georgia program he had been associated with for more than a decade.
Before that, however, McClendon coached Georgia to a win over Penn State in the TaxSlayer Bowl, and was thus immortalized at Georgia as an unbeaten coach. (He is officially in the media guide as a head coach, albeit for one game.)
This is McClendon’s first game at Sanford Stadium with the opposing team. Right now he’s on the field throwing passes to South Carolina receivers.
Overheard in the press box
Rick Neuheisel, who’s calling the game for CBS, just walked by a TV showing the Florida-Missouri game, stopped, turned around and said: “Does that score say 28-3? … Holy smokes!”
Well now it’s 28-6, after a second Florida field goal to finish the half.
Kirby Smart vs. Will Muschamp
As most figure to know by now, this marks the return of Muschamp, who will not be facing his alma mater for the first time, or the first time as a head coach – it’s the sixth time – but it will be the first time in Sanford Stadium as a head coach. The first four came in Jacksonville as Florida’s coach, and last year’s game was in Columbia, S.C.
Muschamp is 1-4 in those games, and 0-1 against Kirby Smart, whose careers have had many crossed paths.
Muschamp was a senior safety when Smart arrived at Georgia in 1995. When Smart entered coaching four years later, it was Muschamp who, then the defensive coordinator at Valdosta State, got Smart an interview and subsequent job as an assistant coach at the Division II school. And after Muschamp joined the LSU staff of Nick Saban, he soon called Smart and helped him latch on there. The rest is coaching history.
So the two not only know each other well, but Smart owes at least a bit of his career to Muschamp. It’s pretty safe to say Smart doesn’t feel he owes Muschamp anything regarding this game.
SEC East implications
This seems small potatoes considering the national picture, but Georgia could clinch the SEC East today. But it would need help.
Georgia (5-0 in the SEC) has a big lead on South Carolina (4-2) and Kentucky (3-2), and at minimum the Bulldogs would eliminate everyone but Kentucky by beating the Gamecocks today. Kentucky, meantime, would need to beat Ole Miss today in order to stay in contention.
The Wildcats then host Vanderbilt next week, while Georgia plays at Auburn. If Kentucky wins the next two, which are both home games, and Georgia slips up either today or at Auburn, then Kentucky would come to Sanford Stadium on Nov. 18 with it being a de factor division championship.
Or Georgia could just clinch it this or next week.
What’s in a ranking?
Ultimately it should shake out on the field, probably against each other, but the reason for the uncertain headline on this is easy: Georgia is No. 1 in the playoff committee ranking but remains No. 2 behind Alabama in the traditional polls. (The AP and coaches polls, and it’s not that close in those polls.)
It might be interesting to see how that’s treated today by UGA, at least in an official manner. On the one hand, you want to celebrate a great honor. On the other hand … rat poison.