Missouri’s Southeastern Conference debut has received most of the attention this week.
The other Columbia: Bulldogs open SEC slate with Missouri, signaling swith from tradition
But the program on the other side of the ring for this bout and its going through a major switch of its own.
For the first time since the SEC’s last expansion 20 years ago, Georgia will open the conference season against somebody other than South Carolina.
“I can’t lie to you it does feel weird,” Georgia offensive lineman Chris Burnette said. “Even watching Georgia football when I was a little kid growing up, I was used to it. It was a routine — South Carolina and Georgia was always the second game and it seemed like that’s the way it was always going to be. Having Missouri come up, I guess it’s a welcome change. Sometimes change is good, to see new people and introduce them to the conference. Maybe this will become our new rivalry.”
Georgia (1-0, 0-0) travels to Missouri (1-0, 0-0) for a 7:50 p.m. Eastern kickoff to start SEC season. The trip to Missouri is the first time Georgia and South Carolina have not met to start SEC season since South Carolina joined the league in 1992. South Carolina opened its 2012 SEC season in even more unusual fashion, Week 1 on a Thursday at Vanderbilt (South Carolina won 17-13).
“This is definitely weird,” Georgia defensive lineman Abry Jones said. “It seems like we’ve always played South Carolina in the second game. But us playing Missouri definitely doesn’t take away from the excitement. As we see them a little bit more, seeing as this is their first year in the SEC. It’s a different team but I think it’s still the same atmosphere and the same excitement as playing South Carolina.”
The addition of Missouri and Texas A&M for the 2012-13 school year forced the Southeastern Conference to overhaul its league scheduling. Missouri slid into the SEC East with Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Kentucky and South Carolina. The Georgia-South Carolina game moved from its traditional slot as the second game of the season to October and Missouri took the Gamecocks’ place.
“To open the SEC season and not start with South Carolina is a little different,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “But we are going to Columbia, so I guess that’s kind of the same vein. We knew when we added teams (to the SEC) that change was coming, so here’s the change. I like away games. I enjoy the travel with the team, and I enjoy the single purpose of the mission. There really aren’t a lot of distractions on the road – at least when it comes to travel, and the night before, and the time before the game. Now when the game kicks off, there is distraction with the crowd noise, but other than that I enjoy away games.”
Bulldogs welcome change
Coaches and athletes can be some of the most habit-conscious people on the planet. They tend to stick to their routines as much as they can so drastic change like a schedule shakeup isn’t always received well.
But Georgia seems to like the switch in SEC opener from South Carolina to Missouri. The pregame reviews were mostly positive and the anticipation of a late-season duel with South Carolina is intriguing.
“I’ve always felt that Game 2 is South Carolina,” Georgia linebacker Christian Robinson said. Robinson’s father, Kenneth Robinson, played at South Carolina in the 1980s before the Gamecocks joined the SEC in 1992. “It’s different but it’s exciting. I think it’s going to be good for us and good for the conference as well and it’s going to be a great opportunity.”
The Georgia-South Carolina rivalry has heated up in recent years with Georgia winning the SEC East last year and the Gamecocks taking it the previous year. The Gamecocks also own a 3-2 edge against the Bulldogs in the last five seasons.
“We’ve got something like six rivals, so every game we play is huge,” Georgia receiver Tavarres King said. “So every game we play is huge just because of that reason. I can definitely see that South Carolina game being even large than it is or has been in the past because of moving it to the back of the schedule.”
Some Bulldogs feel that meeting South Carolina so early in the season has become too much of a routine and relish the chance to branch into something different.
“It’s a little weird but it’s still an SEC game,” Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray said. “I live to travel and I love going to new places and new stadiums. I know the environment is going to be great and we’ve got to make sure we’re ready to go.”
Georgia anticipates rabid Mizzou environment
Missouri will be playing its first Southeastern Conference game since officially moving from the Big 12 on July 1. The SEC has lived up to its reputation as the best football conference in the country by winning the previous six BCS championships. Missouri has never won a national championship in football and hasn’t won a conference title since 1969, so it will certainly want to prove that it belongs by beating one of the preseason SEC favorites.
“It’s going to be really exciting,” Georgia receiver Michael Bennett said. “We figure they’ll be even a little more amped up than your regular SEC game because of the fact that it’s a historic game for them. It’s their first SEC game and we’re just going to have to take care of business. I feel like we’ll definitely feed off of the negative energy that they’re going to be feeding us — all that booing and all that hate. It’s going to be great. So I’m excited about that.”