Full disclosure: I participate in a panel of experts, (which for some reason also includes me), that Athlon employs to make weekly picks, but they must come a week in advance. So last week, looking ahead to Georgia-South Carolina, I picked the Gamecocks, deciding the game was a toss-up that would go to the home team.
Since then, however, I've changed my mind.
Georgia should win this game. I don't know if it will. But it should.
Perhaps my opinion is too stinted from covering the Bulldogs, although often that can steer somebody away from picking the team you cover. You see the warts and often underplay the positives. Up until this past week, I was ranking Georgia lower on my AP ballot than the Bulldogs ended up being ranked.
It also might be tempting to see last week's close call against Tennessee, at home, as a sign of concern. Or you could see a Georgia team that made numerous mistakes on offense and special teams, and whose defensive star was held in check, and might have been caught looking ahead, and yet still beat a decent team.
South Carolina has a ton of talent. A ton, led by tailback Marcus Lattimore, defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor, safety D.J. swearinger, and a heady quarterback in Connor Shaw. And the Gamecocks have a big home-field advantage.
But Georgia may have a deeper level of talent. Jarvis Jones is the answer to Clowney in star power, and the Georgia defense probably has draft picks at every spot. The offense has a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback. And the freshman tailbacks, well, they're playing OK. The receivers, even without Michael Bennett, are a deep and talented group.
The offensive line is young and inexperienced, but so is South Carolina's.
Then there's this: A heady reader of mine named Sam Irvin wrote in on Thursday night, claiming to have broken down South Carolina's second half against Kentucky. Irvin pointed out that the Gamecocks ran it 28 times, versus just eight passes, and gave up one sack. But more importantly, Shaw was much more accurate in his short passes, completing 1-of-2 passes of 20 yards or more.
"I chose to watch the 2nd half of the Kentucky game because I wanted to focus on how SC played when in a tough position, and they started that half down 17-7," Irvin wrote. "Take what you will from the numbers, but here is what I think they show: (1) SC gains the vast majority of its yards within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. (2) Shaw is extremely accurate, but most of his passes are to close receivers. (3) Shaw has not yet been forced to beat a team by throwing deep."
Irvin's conclusion: Georgia has enough playmakers on defense to load the box to stop Lattimore, keep a spy on Shaw to stop the run, and dare him to beat Georgia with deep passes. Irvin said he'd be surprised if South Carolina is able to score more than 24 points on offense.
I don't necessarily agree with that, as I do see the potential for another 45-42 shootout. But I agree with the emerging consensus, which South Carolina beat writer Josh Kendall echoed, that if the Bulldogs avoid turnovers, they should win. But Josh didn't think Georgia could avoid turnovers, based on what he's seen.
There's no way I can sit here and predict whether or not Murray will fumble this year when Clowney hits him, or whether Murray will avoid the pick-six, or whether "Gurshall" will hold onto the ball. But I do know this: Being around the players and coaches this week, I sense they're locked in. There isn't the over-excitement that preceeded Boise State last year, or the chip-on-shoulder attitude that preceeded the losses to South Carolina and LSU. Even when players say this is the biggest game of their careers, they say it matter-of-factly, with a detached analysis, as if it was an obvious fact.
Then again, perhaps the Gamecocks are just as locked-in. You also have to consider the Steve Spurrier factor, and his history of success against Georgia, especially recently.
For that reason, and many others, this game is a toss-up. But I have to pick somebody, and so with apologies to the people at Athlon, I'm switching my pick: Georgia, a 1-point underdog, to win.
LSU (-2.5) at FLORIDA: You're tempted, as you look at recent results, to say the Gators have momentum and the Tigers are poised for a loss. And while I believe both of those are true ... not this week. Pick: LSU covers.
GEORGIA TECH at CLEMSON (-10): David Pollack made an interesting point this week, saying that a team with a triple option will never have a good defense, because it mostly practices against the triple-option in practice. That's worth some studying. But I suspect Paul Johnson is just studying the bus schedule to see the best time to give a good heave to Al Groh. Pick: Clemson covers.
VIRGINIA at DUKE (-1.5): Very quietly, David Cutcliffe is making Duke respectable. And once again it's a good time to remind everyone what a great idea it was for Ole Miss to fire Cutcliffe after one bad season in 2004. Pick: Virginia wins.
VANDERBILT at MISSOURI (-7): The James Franklin bowl is being very underplayed this week, in my humble opinion. Pick: Missouri covers.
TEXAS A&M (-12.5) at OLE MISS: Either Florida's defense is really good, or Johnny Manziel had a bad hangover when he played the Gators, because that kid can play. Pick: Texas A&M covers.
ARKANSAS at AUBURN (-7.5): One program is a train wreck, the other is coached by Gene Chizik. I'm not sure which media corps has it worse. Pick: Auburn covers.
KANSAS at KANSAS STATE (-24.5): Kansas head coach Charlie Weis got mad this week at his school's student paper for printing a cover making it look like the Jayhawks would get killed by their arch-rival. Memo to the student paper: Truth is your best defense. Pick: Kansas State covers.
WEST VIRGINIA at TEXAS (-6.5): That's a big spread for the Longhorns against a team putting up points the way the Mountaineers are. Pick: West Virginia wins.
Virginia Tech beats North Carolina (-5.5)N.C. State covers, Florida State (-17) wins.Mississippi State (-10) covers at Kentucky.Notre Dame (-14) covers against Miami.Ohio State (-3.5) covers against Nebraska.Oregon (-25) covers against Washington.
Last week: 4-11 vs. spread, 9-6 overall.
Season: 30-45* vs. spread, 55-20 overall.
*-I'm hoping for a strong debate performance to turn my numbers around.