HOOVER, Ala. — Jadeveon Clowney is projected by many to be the NFL’s No. 1 overall pick in 2014, is a top candidate to make it to the New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist and is considered the most unstoppable force on defense in college football.
One thing the South Carolina junior defensive end’s decorated college career has yet to include is a trip to Atlanta for the Southeastern Conference championship game.
Georgia has won the SEC East each of the past two seasons despite losing to South Carolina each of those seasons.
“I don’t understand this SEC stuff anyways,” Clowney said Tuesday during SEC Media Days. “Beat them and they still go to the SEC championship. God, it irks me. … We’ve just got to pull it out this year.”
His eyes lit up when talking about getting to Atlanta.
“I’m hungry about that,” Clowney said.
South Carolina, Florida and the rest of the division are gunning for the Bulldogs.
“We lost to them two years in a row, so we’re trying not to let that happen again,” Florida defensive lineman Dominique Easley said.
Georgia and South Carolina meet in Athens on Sept. 7, but Clowney sees the Gators, coming off an 11-2 season. as the bigger challenge in the division this time.
“I’m not downing Georgia,” Clowney said. “I just know they lost a lot on defense.”
Quarterbacks in the SEC will have to account for Clowney, who had 13 sacks last season and created buzz with what he said was a 4.46 recently in the 40-yard dash.
He said Clemson’s Tajh Boyd played “scared” against him and some SEC quarterbacks also did.
“Aaron Murray is one of them,” he said of the Georgia quarterback. “You can see it in his eyes that he’s scared and the guy from Arkansas (Tyler Wilson). He kept sliding a lot. He would run and then throw it into the ground. I said, ‘Man, you’ve got to play football.”
The SEC won’t have to worry anymore about another pass-rusher: Georgia’s Jarvis Jones, the two-time All-American linebacker who was a first-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers after turning pro after his junior season.
All Jones did was rack up seven sacks against the Gators the last two seasons and force two fumbles and recover two fumbles last season in a 17-9 Bulldogs win.
“I was very, very, very glad to see him go,” Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel said of Jone.
The Gamecocks have won three in a row against Georgia, but have been denied a trip to the title game the past two years when the Bulldogs took advantage of an inviting schedule that included SEC West foes Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
Now Georgia gets Louisiana State University as the rotating cross-division opponent while the Gamecocks play Mississippi State on their schedule instead of LSU.
“The last three years we’ve been sort of up there in the hunt,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. “We got there three years ago, fell flat on our face against Auburn. Then the last two years, we were one game away maybe from getting into the SEC game.”
Florida is looking for more explosive plays on offense.
Meanwhile, rising Vanderbilt and Tennessee, Missouri and Kentucky can only hope to be factors in the division race.
Missouri has the best group of running backs, receivers tight ends it has had since 2007, coach Gary Pinkel said, but senior quarterback James Franklin is coming off a subpar and injury-filled season. Pinkel said he’ll make team-wide changes in practices to cut down from a rash of if injuries because he wants to “get my team to September.”
Pinkel hasn’t named Franklin the starter heading into preseason. Redshirt freshman Maty Mauk is the prime challenger.
Franklin, who started just eight games in an injury-filled year, completed just 59.4 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
“Your quarterback has to produce in this offense and that’s what we expect to get done and that’s what we have to do,” said Pinkel, coming off a 5-7 campaign, his first losing season since 2004 and who has a new offensive coordinator in Josh Henson.
Receiver L’Damian Washington called it “simplified. Not as much thinking.”
While he mentioned winning 10 or 11 games as a goal, making a bowl game would be an accomplishment, he said.
Georgia, South Carolina and Florida have other things in mind.