Every Thursday during the season, we'll take a look at the big game(s) during the upcoming weekend that will have the biggest impact on the playoff chase.
This looks to be one of the most uninteresting weekends of the entire season -- which means, of course, that there will be one or two "Oh, my goodness, can you believe it?" results.
Georgia's trip to South Carolina, though, is an interesting game, and the game we're spotlighting in the playoff chase.
Before the season kicked off, South Carolina looked like the team to beat in the SEC East. That school of thought lasted less than three hours on the first day of the season, as the Gamecocks suffered a beatdown at the hands of Kenny Hill and Texas A&M on Aug. 28. Two days later, Georgia manhandled Clemson, and the flipped script in the SEC East was complete: Georgia was the team to beat in the division.
This is a big game for both teams. South Carolina has to win if it wants to remain in the division race. Georgia, meanwhile, knows that if it wins this, it will have beaten arguably two of the three toughest teams on its schedule (Auburn also is on there) two games into the season. The Bulldogs also still have games at Missouri and vs. Florida in Jacksonville, but a win in this one and Georgia gains more credibility as a playoff contender. With a South Carolina win, though, it would be tough to take any SEC East team seriously as a potential playoff participant.
The Bulldogs were off last weekend after dispatching Clemson, while South Carolina struggled to put away East Carolina. Specifically, the Gamecocks struggled against ECU's passing attack. One of the positive aspects for South Carolina this weekend is that Georgia's passing attack -- unlike A&M's and ECU's -- doesn't look all that potent.
Instead, Georgia is all about the run with star Todd Gurley and a deep group of tailbacks. When those guys are running well, as they did against Clemson, there will be no pressure on new starting quarterback Hutson Mason. But can Mason produce if he has to?
That sets up this weird conundrum for South Carolina: The Gamecocks' secondary has issues, but Gamecocks coaches would rather Mason be forced to beat them with his arm than Gurley with his legs. Thus, expect the Gamecocks to crowd the box in an attempt to stymie Gurley and force Mason to the air.
South Carolina also needs its star running back, Mike Davis, to play up to his talent level. Davis didn't see that much time in the opener because of a hip injury, then ran for 101 yards and two scores last week against East Carolina. Davis was mentioned as a dark-horse Heisman contender before the season, and nothing would boost his Heisman campaign like outperforming Gurley, a Heisman favorite, in a head-to-head matchup.
The Gamecocks need Davis to produce because if they have to rely on quarterback Dylan Thompson, they're in as much trouble as Georgia. Thompson has a nice arm and can hit some big plays, but to expect a mistake-free game from him is asking way too much. Georgia also will sell out to stop the run, then blitz the heck out of Thompson.
History is on South Carolina's side: In Georgia's past seven trips to Columbia, the Bulldogs have scored just 88 total points. For whatever reason, the Bulldogs have trouble moving the ball and putting points on the board at Williams-Brice Stadium. Get this: While they have had trouble scoring on the Gamecocks in Columbia, the Bulldogs have scored 124 points in their past three meetings with the Gamecocks in Athens.
And there's also the Steve Spurrier factor. There is no team Spurrier would rather beat than Georgia, and he is 15-6 all-time against the Bulldogs (the only other coach to win that many games against Georgia is former Auburn head man Shug Jordan, who also won 15).
Other games with implications
» Houston at BYU (Thursday night): BYU has a legit chance to go unbeaten, but the Cougars don't have a legit shot at a playoff berth (well, unless everybody else has two losses). An unbeaten BYU team, though, could make a strong case for a spot in one of the "playoff bowls," which adds importance to this game. BYU QB Taysom Hill is a Heisman candidate, and Houston WR Deontay Greenberry is one of the best in the nation at his position.
» Tennessee at Oklahoma: This doesn't look all that dangerous for OU, which appears to be the Big 12 frontrunner. Tennessee's defense has been better than expected, but OU's offense has a lot more athletes than Utah State and Arkansas State, whom the Vols beat in their first two games. Plus, the Sooners' defensive pressure should overwhelm a rebuilt Tennessee offensive line.
» USC at Boston College: The Trojans' win last week at Stanford has them looking like the second-best team in the Pac-12. While they are more talented than BC, this is a sort of "trap" game for the Trojans because they are traveling cross-country to play what looks to be a mediocre team a week after a huge victory.
» Texas vs. UCLA (in Arlington, Texas): This looked like one of the best non-conference games of the season -- then the season started. Texas could be in a freefall without QB David Ash, and UCLA has been unimpressive in opening 2-0. Then again, the Bruins have a schedule that will impress the selection committee if they can somehow get to 11 wins -- as long as this isn't the loss.