On August 30, Alabama and Clemson fans will pack the Georgia Dome for four quarters of football. Both fans are rabid and are predicting a win for their respective schools—but does the game really matter?
This is a non-conference game. It is an early season game, allowing the loser time to make up for the loss as the season progresses.
If Alabama loses, but then wins the next four SEC games, would the loss to Clemson even be a topic of discussion? After all, the Tide would be 4-0 in the SEC and headed for a showdown in Knoxville.
Likewise, if Clemson lost to Alabama, how much of the season would be lost? The big game for Clemson, according to the experts, is a Thursday night game in Winston-Salem. That game will give the winner the inside track to the division title.
We have seen the last two national champions overcome losses in the middle of the season and go on to win the championship. It is almost a given that no team will go undefeated, that everyone will lose. It just matters when you lose, who loses ahead of you, and who the loss is against.
Thus, back to the question: Does this game really matter? Well, perhaps not in the grand scheme of things.
But there are three things that a loss could affect: attendance, recruiting, and confidence.
Clemson plays the Citadel the week after the opener. If Clemson wins, the Clemson faithful will be giddy, and Death Valley will be packed with 85,000-plus as a top 10 team runs down the hill.
Lose, and the soldier boys from Citadel can find date tickets easily.
If Alabama wins this game, the Tide faithful will have another football story and Nick Saban will be proclaimed "king for a day." The home opener against Tulane will be a festive event, and fans will come from everywhere.
Lose, and the excitement will not be the same—and Tulane sure won't help attendance.
Both of these teams recruit the state of Georgia, and against each other. Clemson star receiver Tyler Grisham hails from Alabama. Beating a high profile team certainly helps make the job of a recruiter easier.
Also, young high school prospects across the nation will be tuning in to watch the game of the weekend. They will remember the outcome, and the winner may have the edge on signing day.
Then there is confidence. Without getting into too much detail about the weaknesses of each school—and there are many—let us look at the linebackers for both teams. The fact of the matter is that neither team has enough quality linebackers. Both sets will be tested.
Both schools get relatively easy games for the next three weeks. A win would boost confidence and allow more learning time for both sets of linebackers. These two teams should both win their next three games.
In the course of the season, this game does not have a lot of meaning, as it's a non-conference game that has no impact on winning the division. But it sure will be fun—and in the end, that's what college football is all about.