5 biggest games of the season

When South Carolina begins the season in eight days, it will be looking to continue the momentum from last year's historic year. GamecockAnthem takes a look at the five biggest games of the year for Carolina. Where does Aaron Murray and Georgia rank?

5. Vanderbilt

They always say the most important game is the next game. Well that is the case here. Not only that, but Vandy is a pretty dangerous threat.

Following the embarrassing 21-3 loss to the Gamecocks last season in which Larry Smith was sacked six times, Vandy head coach James Franklin turned over the offense to Jordan Rodgers. Yes, Rodgers, as in brother of Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers came in late in the South Carolina game and completed 4-of-7 passes for a modest 29 yards. Though Rodgers did not earn his first start until Smith was injured against Georgia, he got more and more playing time. He was officially welcomed to college football the following week by eventual National Champion Alabama. Despite the 34-0 blowout loss, Rodgers was a respectable 11-of-18 for 104 yards and two picks. Not great numbers, but pretty good numbers considering the opponent.

Rodgers finished the season playing in all 13 games and starting seven. He completed 108-of-216 passes for 1,524 yards and nine touchdowns with 10 interceptions. He also carried the ball 117 times for 420 yards and four touchdowns. With Smith gone the offense is his now, and he has plenty of weapons returning. Running back Zac Stacy is back as is the top four receivers from last year's squad.

South Carolina should be heavily favored in the game and should win, but that first game is always scary, especially on the road in the SEC.

4. Arkansas

Bobby Petrino may be gone, but Tyler Smith is returning for his senior season and Knile Davis is returning after missing last season with a knee injury. They are still plenty dangerous even with John L. Smith as interim coach.

This is a key game for several reasons:

1. Carolina has struggled with Arkansas. Arkansas has one the last three meetings and the final score hasn't been close. Carolina has not stopped Arkansas on offense in three years and has not been able to keep up with the Razorbacks.

2. It is the end of a brutal stretch. The four opponents before Arkansas are Georgia, LSU, Florida, and Tennessee. They will finally get a week off before the game with Arkansas, but they will surely be battered and bruised. Carolina just has to hope that one week is enough to get everyone back healthy.

3. The SEC East could be on the line. It is very possible that Carolina could go into that game tied with Georgia atop the SEC East, much like last season. If the Gamecocks want to go to the SEC Championship game for the second time in three years, this could be the make-or-break game.

3. Clemson

I'm sure this game would normally be #1 on most people's list, and that's fine. However, there are much bigger fish to fry. The old question of would you rather lose to Clemson and play for an SEC Championship or beat Clemson and not make it to the SEC Championship game could come in to play. Last year Carolina pounded the Tigers for the third consecutive year, yet the Tigers still played in a BCS Bowl. Even though the result wasn't good for the Tigers, playing for a BCS Bowl helped soothe the loss to the Gamecocks.

The reverse could happen this year. As bad as Carolina does not want to lose to Clemson, playing for a BCS Bowl bid is a much higher goal. That is why Clemson must stay at number three, despite the rivalry. When Lou Holtz was coach at Carolina he said that beating Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee was most important, Clemson would take care of itself. For the past two years at least, he has been correct.

2. LSU

Though it has yet to be confirmed by either school or CBS, rumor has it that the two teams will meet at 3:30 in Death Valley (the real one). If that turns out to be the case then that works in Carolina's favor. Night games on the Bayou are extremely tough. Should South Carolina take care of Missouri and Georgia at home, this could very well end up being a top five match-up of two undefeated teams. Should the Gamecocks shock the Tigers they will immediately become national title contenders. Even if they don't, they could get a rematch in Atlanta for a trip to the BCS Championship game.

1. Georgia

This is not even close. If there was a 1a, 1b, and 1c it would still be Georgia, Georgia, Georgia. Face the facts, other than Missouri and possibly Florida, Georgia's schedule is a cakewalk. They play Ole Miss and Auburn from the SEC West who is two of the worst three teams in that division. Georgia losing more than two games seems unlikely, assuming they lose to Missouri and Carolina. If Carolina wants any wiggle room at all they must win this game. With its toughest games behind them Georgia can cruise like they did last season. With its toughest games still ahead the pressure would be really amped up for Carolina in order to win the division.

If South Carolina hopes to continue the momentum from last season and improve on last year, they need to make it back to Atlanta and hope to get a shot at a BCS bid. In order to do that beating Georgia is an absolute must.

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