2012 results: Clemson 11-2, ACC Atlantic co-champions, beat LSU 25-24 in Chick-fil-A Bowl
Georgia 12-2, SEC East champions, beat Nebraska 45-31 in Capital One Bowl
Most important storylines of the week:
Can Clemson handle the hype?: 2012 marked the first time since 2000 that Clemson began and ended the season in the national top 25. In 2000, 2004, 2006 and 2008, the Tigers began in the top 25 but fell out by season’s end. 2008 was the most egregious example; Clemson began No.9 nationally but took a wicked 34-10 season-opening beating from Alabama in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic. It was the beginning of the end of Tommy Bowden’s decade-long tenure at the Tigers’ helm; he resigned under pressure just over a month later.
Clemson’s Chick-fil-A Bowl win over LSU showed they could compete with an elite SEC team, but can they back it up? Make the Bulldogs heel, and they’ll have an impressive start to 2013 that should quiet many of their national detractors.
Can Georgia’s secondary slow Tajh Boyd?: Boyd has established himself as one of the nation’s elite quarterbacks; a two-time ACC Player of the Year and returning All-American, he threw for 3,896 yards and accounted for 46 touchdowns last fall (36 passing, 10 rushing). Boyd has a stable of talented wideouts, led by junior Sammy Watkins, one of four players ever to be named a first-team Associated Press All-American as a true freshman, as well as juniors Martavis Bryant and Charone Peake and highly-touted freshman Mike Wiliams.
Junior cornerback Damian Swann is the secondary’s only returning starter from 2012, and the unit has been further thinned by suspensions and injuries. Projected starting safety Josh Harvey-Clemons will miss this week due to a suspension connected to a May incident involving marijuana possession. And freshman Tray Matthews, a projected starter at free safety, only returned to practice this week while battling shoulder and hamstring injuries which have limited him this month.
Can Clemson’s secondary slow Aaron Murray and Georgia’s offense?: The secondary was Clemson’s Achilles heel in 2012; the Tigers yielded 240 passing yards per game to foes. Veteran cornerbacks Martin Jenkins, Darius Robinson and Bashaud Breeland have returned from injuries that sidelined them for parts or all of last season, but along with junior Garry Peters, no clear starters have emerged. In addition, sophomore Travis Blanks (a freshman All-America at strongside linebacker) and junior Robert Smith will be making their first career starts at safety.
Murray is one of the nation’s top quarterbacks; he threw for 3,893 yards and 36 touchdowns against 10 interceptions as a junior last fall, completing 64.5 percent of his passes. Combine his arm with the powerful backfield duo of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, and you have a pick-your-poison scenario for Clemson’s defense. The Tigers’ front seven will be a strength, but can it overcome a questionable secondary?
Time: 8:22 p.m. EDT
Place: Memorial Stadium, Clemson, S.C.
TV: ABC (national)
Radio: Clemson and Georgia radio networks (regional); Compass Media Network (nationally syndicated).
Spread: Georgia -2 via Bovada