One of college football's fading rivalries gets renewed Saturday when No. 12 Georgia hosts No. 16 Clemson in a showdown that will surely have major playoff implications down the line.
For the hosts, it is yet another early-season roll of the dice against a major opponent rather than the conventional easy-does-it approach to the early weeks of the season most programs employ.
Both teams have sights on major things down the line, but Saturday's contest will force units in transition to sort things out in a hurry or suffer a devastating loss on a national stage.
With so much on the line between two old foes, let's take a moment to break down the key aspects of the battle.
When: Saturday, August 30, 5:30 p.m. ET
Where: Sanford Stadium, Athens, Georgia
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):
- Over/Under: 54.5
- Spread: Georgia (-9.5)
Team Injury Reports
|Shaq Anthony||T||08/21/2014||has left the team||Out||personal|
|David Beasley||G||08/27/2014||will miss Saturday's game against Georgia||Suspended||one-game suspension|
|Travis Blanks||S||08/15/2014||is out indefinitely||Out||knee|
|Zac Brooks||RB||08/20/2014||will miss the entire season||Out||foot|
|Corey Crawford||DE||08/27/2014||will miss Saturday's game against Georgia||Suspended||one-game suspension|
|Tyshon Dye||RB||08/25/2014||is out indefinitely||Out||Achilles|
|Charone Peake||WR||08/25/2014||is probable for Saturday's game against Georgia||Probable||knee|
|Garry Peters||CB||08/27/2014||will miss Saturday's game against Georgia||Suspended||one-game suspension|
|Davin Bellamy||LB||08/02/2014||will be eligible to return on 9/20 against Troy||Suspended||two-game suspension|
|James DeLoach||DT||08/24/2014||is probable for Saturday's game against Clemson||Probable||disciplinary|
|Merritt Hall||FB||08/14/2014||will miss the entire season||Out||concussion|
|Keith Marshall||RB||08/24/2014||is probable for Saturday's game against Clemson||Probable||knee|
|Malcolm Mitchell||WR||08/02/2014||is out indefinitely||Out||knee|
|Justin Scott-Wesley||WR||08/02/2014||is out indefinitely||Out||knee|
|Jon Taylor||DT||07/23/2014||was dismissed from the team||Out||disciplinary|
Injury reports via USA Today.
Picking Up the Pieces
First and foremost, don't expect a boatload of scoring between the two sides this time, as both are breaking in new quarterbacks.
In the wake of record-breaking quarterback Aaron Murray's departure to the NFL, the Bulldogs now turn to senior Hutson Mason, who had never attempted more than 30 passes in a season until last year when he threw 110, completing 60.9 percent of them for 968 yards and five touchdowns to three picks.
He will be helped along by surefire Heisman contender Todd Gurley, whose rushing totals do the talking:
Senior Cole Stoudt has boots of roughly the same size to fill for Clemson with Tajh Boyd gone, but he seems at an even bigger disadvantage than his counterpart come Saturday. He threw a career-high 59 attempts last year and completed nearly 80 percent of them, but it's too small a sample size to buy stock in at the moment.
Stoudt also has to overcome a unit that will sorely miss wideouts Sammy Watkins (1,464 yards and 12 scores last year) and Martavis Bryant (828 and seven), running back Roderick McDowell (1,025 and five) and lineman Brandon Thomas.
To his credit, Stoudt seems ready to seize the proverbial bull by the horns, as Clemson Football captures:
Cole Stoudt: "Not a lot of time for nerves. Been preparing for this for three years. i can't wait for Saturday." pic.twitter.com/RvnqPIr0gm— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) August 26, 2014
To make matters even worse, Georgia has a new defensive coordinator in Jeremy Pruitt, who hails from Florida State. He gets to send the nation's best group of linebackers after Stoudt and Co., led by Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera, the former the SEC's leading tackler last year. Oh, and he has five upperclassmen to work with in the trenches.
Clearly, being on the road is not the biggest worry for the Tigers.
That's what it is all about Saturday.
Playoff implications run rampant in this one, although Clemson coach Dabo Swinney points out that it is the first game of the year, per The Associated Press, via Fox News:
God forbid we go down there and lose the game. But if we do, Georgia's not in the playoffs and we're not out of it. It's a long season, it's a long way to go. And vice versa, if we win the game, let's not punch our ticket to Dallas just yet. We've got a long way to go in a long season. Every game is critical.
But the underlying implications, as USA Today's Dan Wolken explains, are massive for a rebuilding Clemson squad:
If Clemson can beat Georgia, it puts itself in position to make the playoff without winning its division.— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) August 27, 2014
For Georgia, a bit of the past seeps into Saturday to form a potent mixture given the volatility of the SEC.
Bulldogs faithful will, with a reluctant reach into the memory banks, recall the 38-35 loss last season to kick off the year. It sent the team on its way to five total losses.
Revenge and future fortunes are quite the enticing set of motivators, so a new-look Clemson squad needs to fire on all cylinders out of the gate or risk throwing the season in jeopardy, even if Swinney has downplayed a potential loss.
Which team wins?
Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley might just be the nation's top defender this season, but he will not be able to stop Gurley and a host of others in a hostile environment.
Look at it this way. Georgia is without Murray, sure, but last year the Bulldogs still went to Clemson and gave the Tigers all they could handle despite missing Gurley for a large portion of the contest. Now things shift to Athens, and while the Bulldogs defense has improved, the Tigers have suffered numerous significant losses.
Thanks to the revenge factor, Georgia won't overlook the opposition with a date against South Carolina up next. Gurley is going to get his consistently, while Pruitt's defense will silence a developing offense.
Prediction: Georgia 28, Clemson 20
Statistics courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.