HOOVER, Ala. ‚Äî Jadeveon Clowney is projected by many to be the NFL‚Äôs No. 1 overall pick in 2014, is a top candidate to make it to the New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist and is considered the most unstoppable force on defense in college football.
One thing the South Carolina junior defensive end‚Äôs decorated college career has yet to include is a trip to Atlanta for the Southeastern Conference championship game.
Georgia has won the SEC East each of the last two seasons despite losing to South Carolina each of those seasons.
‚ÄúI don‚Äôt understand this SEC stuff anyways,‚Äù Clowney said Tuesday as SEC Media Days got underway at the Wynfrey Hotel. ‚ÄúBeat them and they still go to the SEC championship. We know we can beat them. God, it irks me. ‚Ä¶ We‚Äôve just got to pull it out this year.‚Äù
His eyes lit up when talking about getting to Atlanta.
‚ÄúI‚Äôm hungry about that,‚Äù Clowney said.
South Carolina, Florida and the rest of the division are gunning for the Bulldogs.
‚ÄúWe lost to them two years in a row, so we‚Äôre trying not to let that happen again,‚Äù Florida defensive lineman Dominique Easley said.
Georgia and South Carolina meet in Athens on Sept. 7, but Clowney sees the Gators, coming off an 11-2 season. as the bigger challenge in the division this time.
‚ÄúI‚Äôm not downing Georgia,‚Äù Clowney said. ‚ÄúI just know they lost a lot on defense.‚Äù
Quarterbacks in the SEC will have to account for Clowney, who had 13 sacks last season and created buzz with what he said was a 4.46 recorded time in the 40-yard dash recently.
He said Clemson‚Äôs Tajh Boyd played ‚Äúscared‚Äù against him and some SEC quarterbacks also did.
‚ÄúAaron Murray is one of them,‚Äù he said of the Georgia quarterback. ‚ÄúYou can see it in his eyes that he‚Äôs scared and the guy from Arkansas (Tyler Wilson). He kept sliding a lot. He would run and then throw it into the ground. I said, ‚ÄòMan, you‚Äôve got to play football.‚Äù
The SEC won‚Äôt have to worry anymore about another pass-rusher: Georgia‚Äôs Jarvis Jones, the two-time All-American linebacker who was a first-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers after turning pro after his junior season.
All Jones did was rack up seven sacks against the Gators the last two seasons and force two fumbles and recover two fumbles last season in a 17-9 Bulldogs win.
‚ÄúI was very, very, very glad to see him go,‚Äù Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel. ‚ÄúHe made millions of dollars off of us. I‚Äôm happy to see him go. I‚Äôm happy to see him go. He was a great player for them, but I‚Äôm sure they‚Äôll have someone else step up.‚Äù
The Gamecocks have won three straight against Georgia, but have been denied a trip to the title game the last two years when the Bulldogs took advantage of an inviting schedule that included SEC West foes Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
Now Georgia gets LSU as the rotating cross-division opponent while the Gamecocks play Mississippi State on their schedule instead of LSU.
‚ÄúThe last three years we‚Äôve been sort of up there in the hunt,‚Äù said South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, coming off an 11-2 season but 6-2 for the second straight year in the SEC. ‚ÄúWe got there three years ago, fell flat on our face against Auburn. Then the last two years, we were one game away maybe from getting into the SEC game.‚Äù
Florida is looking for more explosive plays on offense.
Meanwhile, rising Vanderbilt and Tennessee, Missouri and Kentucky can only hope to be factors in the division race.
Missouri has the best group of running backs, receivers tight ends it has had since 2007, coach Gary Pinkel said, but senior quarterback James Franklin is coming off a subpar and injury-filled season. Pinkel said he‚Äôll make team-wide changes in practices to cut down from a rash of if injuries because he wants to ‚Äúget my team to September.‚Äù
Pinkel hasn‚Äôt named Franklin the starter heading into preseason. Redshirt freshman Maty Mauk is the prime challenger.
Franklin, who started just eight games in an injury-filled year, completed just 59.4 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
‚ÄúYour quarterback has to produce in this offense and that‚Äôs what we expect to get done and that‚Äôs what we have to do,‚Äù said Pinkel, coming off a 5-7 campaign, his first losing season since 2004 and who has a new offensive coordinator in Josh Henson.
Receiver L‚ÄôDamian Washington called it ‚Äúsimplified. Not as much thinking.‚Äù
While he mentioned winning 10 or 11 games as a goal, making a bowl game would be an accomplishment, he said.
Georgia, South Carolina and Florida have other things in mind.