No. 12 Georgia is favored to beat No. 16 Clemson by more than a touchdown. Tigers fans have got to be thinking:
When did the Bulldogs become such an automatic to win?
Clemson has its own spot in Urban Dictionary for its varied "failures," but Georgia has had its own stumbles over the last six years.
The Bulldogs have almost become synonymous with unmet expectations. Since 2008, they have started every season ranked in the preseason AP Top 25. Three times, they ended the season unranked. Only once did they finish the season ranked higher than where they started. They have lost three or more games five times over that six-year span.
Clemson has its own issues to get past (cough ,cough Florida State and South Carolina). But high preseason expectations have only come into play over the last few years. This is only the third time since 2008 that Clemson will start the season ranked in the preseason Top 25. In the previous two seasons, their only losses came to the aforementioned Seminoles and Gamecocks.
So maybe Clemson deserves some serious consideration heading into this game. The Tigers did beat Georgia last year -- a game in which the Bulldogs were road favorites and at full strength. They did beat Ohio State in the Discover Orange Bowl as an underdog.
Clemson has won its last four games against SEC teams NOT named South Carolina. Three times, the Tigers were the underdog.
“I haven’t paid any attention, but I’m pretty sure nobody has given us a chance to win the game,” Clemson linebacker Stephone Anthony said. “That’s fine. Nothing wrong with being the underdog. We don’t feel like we’re the underdog. We’re going to come in ready to go.”
There are obvious reasons why Georgia is favored. The Bulldogs have a preseason Heisman candidate in running back Todd Gurley, terrific receivers and a talented quarterback in Hutson Mason. Home-field advantage is obviously big.
On the other side, we all know that Clemson lost its offensive superstars Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins, so there are significant question marks there. But it is impossible to overlook this defense, which should be the strength of this team going into the season.
That means advantage Clemson. Think about it. If you had to open the season on the road against a Top 25 team, would you want a stronger offense or stronger defense?
I would want a stronger defense. You know all the old adages. Yes, Clemson gave up 545 yards to Georgia a year ago, but the Tigers will be better up front and in the back end. If Clemson can hold Gurley and Mason in check, then its offense will not have to get into a shootout the way it did a year ago. This offense cannot afford that, not with all the new starters.
Georgia, meanwhile, has questions of its own. Top receiver Malcolm Mitchell’s status is up in the air. And last week, the Bulldogs had two first-year players and a walk-on running with the first team in the secondary.
Clemson might not have veteran starters on offense, but it has veterans. Senior Cole Stoudt will be given an opportunity to take advantage of some of these mismatches on the outside to help get the offense going. Watkins is gone, but the Tigers have some fast, athletic receivers who will have an opportunity to make some big plays in this Chad Morris offense.
So the Clemson game plan is laid out pretty plainly. If the Tigers can exploit these matchups to their advantage, keep the turnovers to zero, and rely on what should be a solid defense, they will have every opportunity to win.
"We have a chance to start our season strong and just prove a lot of doubters wrong from the beginning," Clemson linebacker Tony Steward said. "Just having that opportunity is awesome."
It is an opportunity Clemson has for the third straight season, after opening with wins against Auburn and Georgia in the last two. Maybe the opener this year will follow the same winning script.