5 things to know before No. 1 Georgia faces Charleston Southern

Remember this guy? It's Georgia quarterback JT Daniels and you'll probably see him play in the Bulldogs' final home game of the season Saturday against Charleston Southern. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
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Remember this guy? It's Georgia quarterback JT Daniels and you'll probably see him play in the Bulldogs' final home game of the season Saturday against Charleston Southern. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

ATHENS – Georgia’s football team is good. Extraordinarily special, even.

But the Bulldogs also have been tremendously fortunate when it comes to the uncontrollable ebbs and flows of their schedule this season. Take this week, for instance.

The No. 1-ranked and undefeated Bulldogs (10-0, 8-0 SEC) play host to Charleston Southern (4-5, 3-4 Big South) in the home finale at Sanford Stadium on Saturday (noon, SEC Network-Plus). The game against a below-.500 FCS team offers a timely respite that comes after a stretch of eight consecutive SEC games.

Next week, the Bulldogs venture to Atlanta to take on their archrival, Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets (3-7, 2-6 ACC) wouldn’t appear to pose much of a threat this season. As it is, though, they will be in South Bend, Ind., on Saturday facing No. 6-ranked Notre Dame (9-1).

Georgia’s likely opponent in the SEC Championship game is Alabama. While the Bulldogs tied the record for earliest clinch of a division title in SEC history, the No. 2-ranked Crimson Tide (9-1, 5-1) still have some work to do. They host Arkansas on Saturday, then finish on the road at Auburn.

About this week’s game:

JT Daniels watch

Senior Stetson Bennett is expected to get his seventh consecutive start under center Saturday. JT Daniels likely will make an appearance either in a rotation or as a late-game substitute, but Georgia coach Kirby Smart wouldn’t come close to declaring a plan.

Nevertheless, logic would dictate that odds are very good that Georgia fans will get a glimpse of Daniels in action again Saturday.

A junior from Irvine, Calif., Daniels has played in only three offensive series since he was sidelined with a back strain in Week 5. Those possessions all came after Georgia led 33-3 in the third quarter against Missouri on Nov. 6. He never even warmed up in decisive wins over Florida (34-7) and Tennessee (41-17).

It would seem in the Bulldogs’ best interest to help the now fully healthy former Heisman Trophy candidate round into form, and not in the second half of a long-decided contest where the primary objective is to hand off the football and watch the clock tick down.

No, Charleston Southern is giving up 25.9 points and 354.1 yards per game to FCS opponents, 240 of those yards through the air. What better time to get a 6-foot-3, 210-point slinger such as Daniels back on the field to hook up with receivers on timing routes and deep balls.

Alas, Smart remained obtusely non-committal.

“Our goal is to go out there and get the best quarterback ready to play and go out and play with best guy,” Smart said. “If (playing Daniels) presents itself, absolutely. Straight up. I hope everybody gets to play; I really do. I hope everybody gets to play, but I don’t control that.”

And yet, he does.

Senior Day

Georgia will celebrate the careers of about 30 seniors Saturday with its annual rite of passage known as Senior Day. The Bulldogs didn’t get to have one last year when Vanderbilt canceled, citing SEC COVID-19 protocols.

So, a select few players who would have participated in last year’s exercise will get to have the experience this year. Defensive linemen Julian Rochester and Devonte Wyatt and outside linebacker Robert Beal are among those who planned to take part.

And some who “walk” Saturday may nonetheless be back next season. That includes Georgia’s starting quarterback.

Bennett, a fifth-year senior from Blackshear, plans to participate in the Senior Day ceremonies. But he has the option to return for another season, as do the other seniors. The NCAA’s COVID-19 eligibility exception applies to all players. Like Bennett, many of them haven’t made up their minds yet.

“We had the same thing last year,” Smart said. “We told them, ‘If you’re a fourth year or beyond, you have that opportunity because it doesn’t declare anything.’ They’re not ready to declare what they’re doing. … We’re going to honor those that choose to walk and a lot of them may decide to come back. We’re not crossing that bridge yet.”

Rest for weary

Almost all of Georgia’s usual starters will be available to play Saturday. How many of them actually will remains to be seen.

Of chief interest is whether outside linebacker Nolan Smith plays. The 6-foot-3, 235-pound junior suffered a hyperextension of his left elbow while making a tackle with 11:05 remaining in the fourth quarter of a 34-10 game against Tennessee on Saturday. The Bulldogs would go on to win 41-17.

“Nolan should be fine,” Smart said this week. “He’s got an elbow that’s dinged up. It shouldn’t be an issue.”

Especially if Smith doesn’t play. Nose guard Jordan Davis had an elbow injury last season, and it knocked him out for three games over four weeks.

Davis and Wyatt were among several players to be attended by trainers during game stoppages against the Volunteers. Their injuries, real or feigned, proved not to be serious.

The Bulldogs did have eight players affected by what they referred to as flu, including starting guard Warren Ericson and defensive tackle Jalen Carter. Both tried to play but left the game. Smart said more players and coaches were infected early this week. But he predicted that all would be back by this weekend.

What about these Bucs?

Charleston Southern (4-5) is an FCS team that competes in the Big South Conference. Saturday will be the Buccaneers’ last game of the season.

This is their second visit to Sanford Stadium. Georgia’s 2014 team beat them 55-9.

Because it’s an FCS opponent, Las Vegas oddsmakers didn’t put a line on Saturday’s contest. If they did, it likely would be more than 50 points. No. 2 Alabama was favored by 51 last week against New Mexico State. The Crimson Tide covered, winning 59-3.

The Buccaneers also are led by a pretty quarterback good from Georgia. Jack Chambers, a 5-foor10, 180-pound senior from Parkview High, has passed for 2,435 yards, the fourth-most in school history, while also rushing for a team-high 277 yards.

What channel?

You won’t be able to find Saturday’s game on a television channel. It is being streamed via SEC Network-Plus.

What is SEC Network-Plus? Well, it’s actually ESPN-Plus. So, in order to watch Saturday’s game, you’ll have to have the ESPN-Plus app downloaded on your phone, computer or other streaming device. If you don’t already have it, then you have to buy it. It’s $6.99 a month (or $69.99 per year) and can be accessed at ESPN.com, ESPNplus.com or on ESPN. It also isavailable as part of The Disney Bundle that gives subscribers access to Disney-Plus, ESPN-Plus and Hulu for $13.99 per month (with ads) or $19.99 per month (without ads).

All this is part of Disney/ESPN’s grand plan to move more viewers to streaming platforms. That is considered the future of the sports and entertainment industry.

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