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UGA, South Carolina await NCAA rulings as SEC showdown looms Saturday

Photo by JOHN AMIS

Photo by JOHN AMIS

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Georgia and South Carolina both have questions heading into Southeastern Conference play this weekend, perhaps none bigger than "Who's playing?"

NCAA investigations have spent time with players from each campus this summer, forcing Bulldogs coach Mark Richt and Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier to hold back starters until their status with the sport's governing body was cleared up.

A.J. Green, Georgia's fantastic wideout, missed his team's 55-7 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette as the Bulldogs waited for NCAA clearance.

For South Carolina, starting left tackle Jarriel King and first-team cornerback Chris Culliver could not get their NCAA status resolved before kickoff of their team's 41-13 win against Southern Miss.

And don't even ask about suspended Gamecocks tight end Weslye Saunders, who hasn't practiced with the team since Aug. 23.

"Nothing's been cleared yet," Spurrier said Tuesday.

The NCAA has questioned Saunders about an agent-hosted party in Miami. He and King were among several players Spurrier asked to move out of the local hotel where they had been staying. Saunders told Spurrier the player had broken no rules.

The NCAA also investigateed Georgia amid allegations about players attending the South Beach party. There have been reports that Green, a junior rated as one of the nation's top receivers, is the target.

Green says he's never been to Miami.

Both Richt and Spurrier hoped to hear something from the NCAA well before Saturday's noon kickoff at Williams-Brice Stadium. At this point, they said, the earlier the better.

"If we know exactly who is playing for us, it helps," Richt said. "You feel confident in the plan that you're doing the right thing with the personnel you have available."

It's usually the right call to throw to Green, who's led the team with 109 receptions the past two seasons. He had six passes, including a key touchdown a season ago in Georgia's 41-37 victory over the Gamecocks. The Bulldogs showed some versatility last week as their 19 completions were spread among 10 receivers. None of those, however, shine like Green.

"He's a phenomenal player, one of the best players I've ever seen. It's hard to replace a guy like that," said Kris Durham, who led Georgia with five catches for 83 yards against Louisiana-Lafayette.

Gamecock defenders are prepping as if Georgia's No. 8 will start the game and they're ready to shut him down. "Yeah, I'm looking forward to it," cornerback Stephon Gilmore said.

Gilmore, a sophomore, locked up Southern Miss playmaker DeAndre Brown last week, holding him without a catch until the fourth quarter and South Carolina had a big lead.

Richt says Green will practice this week with the Bulldogs.

For his part, Spurrier was confident about Culliver's chances of hitting the field. The senior had 62 tackles last season to lead the team's defensive backs and was solid on kick returns.

"We will prepare as if (Culliver) may play. We think he's going to play," Spurrier said.

He was less certain about King, a senior who was repeatedly shown on the sidelines in shorts and his No. 76 jersey by ESPN cameras during the Southern Miss game.

South Carolina center T.J. Johnson, the SEC's offensive lineman of the week, says it's never the same when a player you've worked alongside of can't go. But that didn't stop the offensive line from helping South Carolina post 449 yards, a total it surpassed just once in 2009.

"We've got deal with the cards that we're given and we're just going to push it and drive on," Johnson said.

Kyle Nunn, who stepped in for King last week, would likely get a second straight start. Without Culliver, South Carolina would go with last week's starter in C.C. Whitlock.

Saunders remains enrolled in school, athletic spokesman Steve Fink said.

While Green's status is up in the air, Georgia expects back suspended players in tailback Washuan Ealey and receiver Tavarres King, "assuming they don't act up between now and then," Richt said.

Ealey was suspended for a hit-and-run incident while King was charged with underaged possession of alcohol this summer.

Spurrier said he's grown a little frustrated waiting for the NCAA's decisions, but understands the role it plays in the sport.

"You've got to have a sheriff," Spurrier said. "They're the sheriff of all of our teams so as coaches and administrators we understand they do have a difficult job and we just have to wait it out and see what happens."