Fans light up the stadium during the second half in a NCAA college football at Sanford Stadium in Athens on Saturday, September 21, 2019. Georgia defeated Notre Dame 23-17. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Kirby Smart challenges UGA fans for early kick vs. South Carolina

No. 3-ranked Georgia drew the dreaded noon kickoff for Saturday’s game against South Carolina at Sanford Stadium. 

“I want to challenge our fans, who have always responded to challenges, to get in your seats early and get ready for an early kickoff,” Smart said at his weekly news conference on Monday. Our guys will need that support, and we'll need the crowd noise and the impact that we had in the Notre Dame game.”

Of course, the Notre Dame game kicked off at 8 p.m. and was televised as the CBS featured college football game.

Each week, the television networks that contract with the SEC jostle for the best games on a particular Saturday. CBS picks first, then ESPN, and so on.

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CBS chose Alabama at Texas A&M as this Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. featured SEC game. Then ESPN picked Florida vs. LSU for its coveted 8 p.m. spot. The Bulldogs landed in what’s generally considered as the third-best position at noon on ESPN because it’s on the main network and it immediately follows the live College Football GameDay broadcast. But while it’s a good time for television, it’s not so good for atmosphere. Fans – and college students in particular, tend to show up late and be less impassioned when they get there.  

“I was just talking to somebody about this,” Georgia senior receiver Tyler Simmons said Monday. “The biggest thing is just getting everybody going, especially with an SEC opponent and a little tougher team. We just hope everybody gets going early.”

The Bulldogs (5-0, 2-0 SEC) enter Saturday’s game as 24-point favorites over South Carolina (2-3, 1-2). No. 1 Alabama (5-0, 2-0) is an 18-point favorite on the road against the Aggies (3-2, 1-1).

It’s not clear why CBS passed on a Top 10 matchup between LSU (5-0, 1-0) and Florida (6-0, 3-0). Perhaps the network thought the Gators were going to lose to Auburn when it made the selection two weeks ago. LSU, which has long favored night-time kickoffs, certainly is not complaining.” 

As for the Bulldogs, they can use all the help they can get. Not only will they have to deal with the early kickoff, but they’ll be facing an opponent coming off an open date for the second of what will be five times this season.

Meanwhile, the Gamecocks are playing better behind freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski, who took over after three-year starter Jake Bentley was lost to a season-ending injury.

Smart are hoping Georgia fans could at least be loud enough Saturday to make it hard for Hillinski to make audibles at the line of scrimmage. That was an issue for Notre Dame, which was flagged for six false start penalties when it visited Sanford Stadium on Sept. 21.

“We'll need that same thing going against a young quarterback,” Smart said.

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