A loss in Week 1 could derail national championship hopes for Georgia and Clemson.
While many top NCAA football teams face cupcake opponents in Week 1 of the regular season, the Bulldogs and Tigers will test one another's mettle right out of the gates.
Both ranked as top-10 teams in at least two major polls—the Associated Press and USA Today (via ESPN.com)—the stakes couldn't be higher for these two promising teams.
Georgia went 12-2 last season in the SEC, losing tough games to South Carolina and Alabama—two of the toughest teams in the nation. After a couple of mediocre seasons in 2009 and 2010, head coach Mark Richt has his program trending up once again with two winning seasons in a row.
Senior quarterback Aaron Murray is heading into his fourth season as the starter for the Bulldogs. He leads an underrated offensive attack that scored 37.8 points per game last year to rank No. 19 in the nation.
On the defensive side of the ball, Georgia will be trotting out plenty of new faces this season, as guys like Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree, John Jenkins and Bacarri Rambo are now working to make an impact at the next level with NFL teams.
Clemson also had a phenomenal campaign in 2012, as the Tigers went 11-2. Best of all, the team capped off the season with a nail-biter of a win in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl against LSU, thanks to a heroic effort by quarterback Tajh Boyd.
The Tigers feature an electric offensive attack, led by Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins—both of whom are among the best at their positions in the nation.
The team's defense, which was good, but not great last year, appears to be stronger up front at the defensive line and linebacker positions, as noted by ESPN's Chris Fowler:
Good visits w/ Dabo Swinney and Tajh Boyd today at Clemson. Tigers look loaded, much stronger at DL/LB. But we'll find out 8/31 vs UGA!— Chris Fowler (@cbfowler) August 6, 2013
Both teams are expected to be among the best in the nation, but only one will prevail. The winner's stock will rise, while the loser's will drop precipitously.
Here's what you need to know about this upcoming matchup.
Where: Memorial Stadium, Clemson, S.C.
When: Saturday, Aug. 31, at 8 p.m. ET
Betting Line (via Bovada)
Spread: Georgia -3
Injury Report: Via USA Today:
Josh Dawson, DE, Probable, (Shoulder)
Brendan Douglas, RB, Questionable (Knee)
Damian Swann, CB, Questionable (Hip)
Corey Moore, S, Questionable (Knee)
Shaquille Fluker, CB, Questionable (Back)
Tray Matthews, S, Questionable (Shoulder)
Chris Conley, WR, Questionable (Shoulder)
Jonathan Rumph, SE, Doubtful, (Hamstring)
Reggie Wilkerson, CB, Out for Season (Knee)
Josh Harvey-Clemons, S, Out indefinitely (Suspension)
Marshall Morgan, PK, Out (Suspension)
TJ Green, UT, Probable (Knee)
Chad Kelly, QB, Out Indefinitely (Knee)
Jordan Leggett, TE, Out (Knee)
Sam Cooper, TE, Out Indefinitely (Knee)
Georgia Bulldogs Player to Watch: Aaron Murray, Quarterback
As Murray prepares for his fourth campaign as the starting quarterback for the Bulldogs, it's safe to say there are some high expectations for him and his team to live up to in 2013.
Both major preseason polls have Georgia ranked No. 5 in the nation, behind only Alabama, Ohio State, Oregon and Stanford—all of which are being viewed as potential national championship teams.
Murray has a chance to "break every major SEC career-passing record this season," as noted by Sharon Katz of ESPN Stats & Info and illustrated by ESPN College Football, but questions remain about his ability to carry Georgia to a big-game win.
Georgia QB Aaron Murray close to setting 3 SEC all-time records this season: Pass TD, Pass Yds, Completions pic.twitter.com/aJjAS8P5pD— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) August 5, 2013
With just one returning starter at the wide receiver position, flanker Malcolm Mitchell, Murray faces a big challenge this year. Thankfully, he'll be playing behind a veteran offensive line that features three seniors, one junior and a sophomore. And even better, the team's rushing attack is loaded with explosive talent.
In the end, however, Murray must perform at the top of his game in order to propel Georgia to a victory over Clemson.
Clemson Tigers Player to Watch: Tajh Boyd, Quarterback
One of the teams receiving the most hype this preseason, Clemson will only go as far as Boyd takes it in 2013.
Then again, Boyd is the reason for the hype.
The last time we saw Boyd he put on a performance for the archives against LSU in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. LSU took an 11-point lead into the fourth quarter of that contest, and given the reputation of the Tigers defense, Clemson shouldn't have had a shot to win.
But Boyd willed his offense back to life after it lay dormant for the entire third quarter, leading the Tigers to three scoring drives in the fourth quarter to win the game by one point on a last-second field goal.
Georgia's defense will give Boyd and his teammates an offense all they can handle in Week 1. Anything less than perfect execution could result in a devastating loss at home to open the season.
As if that weren't enough pressure, this entire season will be one long audition for Boyd, as he strives to put a good tape together for professional scouts. He's undeniably talented, as noted by ESPN College GameDay's David Pollack:
Tajh Boyd's talent pops off the screen. He has the unique ability to throw from a lot of different arm angles. HUGE for shorter QBs— David Pollack (@davidpollack47) July 31, 2013
Boyd will be dealing with heavy pressure all season long to live up to the high expectations being placed on him personally and on his team. A big win against Georgia would be the ideal way to start the season, while a loss could be devastating.
Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78.