Let's put recent history aside for a second.
Though the winner of the Georgia-South Carolina game hasn't won the SEC Eastern Division since 2010 (South Carolina), if Georgia is going to go to Atlanta and play for an SEC title, the Bulldogs have to win this weekend at South Carolina.
I'm not saying a win against the Gamecocks on Saturday assures the Dawgs of a trip to the ATL in early December, but a loss will have them watching the big game from home.
Now, before Dawgs fans come tar and feather my cat, let me start by saying Georgia, which I picked to finish third in the SEC East at the beginning of the season, is clearly in the driver's seat in this division right now. Georgia has the SEC East's best, most balanced offense and the Dawgs appear to have an improved defense. Yes, it was only one game, but Clemson is no team to just lift your nose at, and the Dawgs made short work of the Tigers in the second half.
With that said, I think the East is going to be a beast for all of the top teams. South Carolina hasn't looked great at all through two games, but you have to think that the Gamecocks will be better come conference play, starting Saturday. Missouri went to Toledo and absolutely dominated in an environment that could have led to a disastrous end for the Tigers. All Maty Mauk did was shake off two interceptions with five touchdowns. There are still some issues on defense, but there has been no drop-off at the defensive end spots, and that could go a long way.
Then you have Florida and Tennessee -- teams with a lot of preseason questions. Tennessee is right where we kind of thought it would be right now, with the rebuilt defensive line outperforming the rebuilt offensive line. But quarterback Justin Worley has been impressive through two weeks, and this team has "upset" written all over it.
As for Florida, the Gators had their opener rained out, but they turned right around and trounced Eastern Michigan 65-0 over the weekend. Forget the opponent for a second, Florida's offense actually had a pulse and quarterback Jeff Driskel looked comfortable running an offense for the first time in a very long time.
Though Georgia currently looks like the East's best team, the Bulldogs aren't going to just walk through this division. In fact, I don't see anyone in the East getting through the conference unscathed, so there is no point in leaving a sliver of the door open for South Carolina. Georgia is going to have to fight its way to Atlanta because this side of the league is tougher than it was last season. And if the Dawgs fall to South Carolina, the Gamecocks will take a big, one-game lead over Georgia in divisional play.
South Carolina's schedule sets up very nicely. After Georgia, South Carolina travels to struggling Vanderbilt, hosts Missouri, goes to Kentucky, takes a bye, and then hosts Furman before a trip to Auburn. During that time, Georgia has three straight home games against Troy, Tennessee and Vandy, before going on the road to play Missouri and Arkansas. Those road games won't be easy, especially if Arkansas' running game stays hot.
Then, there's Georgia's annual meeting in Jacksonville, Fla., with Florida -- a team that will be better this season.
Losing Saturday makes the East that much more wide open, but a Georgia win will put the Dawgs squarely in the driver's seat for weeks to come, as the rest of the division beats up on itself. That could give the Dawgs room for error, should an SEC loss creep up on them down the road.
Georgia has all the pieces it needs to make an SEC and playoff run this season, but the first SEC hurdle comes Saturday in a place the Bulldogs haven't won in since 2008. For as good as Georgia looked in Week 1, things will get harder, but getting a win Saturday will take a lot of pressure off of the Bulldogs' journey.