The news that ABC plans an 8 p.m. national telecast of the Aug. 31 Georgia-Clemson game means Mark Richt’s 2013 team will kick off its season on the road in a prime-time matchup of what probably will be two preseason Top 10 teams.
Yeah, that’s a pressure-packed way to get started, but with South Carolina coming to Athens a week later and LSU closing out September Between the Hedges, it’s shaping up to be a month that will make or break the Dawgs’ championship hopes.
So, which game will be the toughest? The opener at Clemson? Steve Spurrier and South Carolina? The return of Zach Mettenberger to Sanford Stadium with LSU? Or the traditional pick of Georgia fans when asked this question each year: Florida in Jacksonville?
I put that question to several UGA fans Tuesday and I couldn’t get a consensus. The answers were all over the place, an indication of just how daunting a schedule the Bulldogs face.
On first glance, I’d rank the toughness of the games like this: South Carolina, then Clemson, Florida and LSU.
On paper, South Carolina looks to be the best team of those four, despite losing Marcus Lattimore, Kenny Miles and Ace Sanders on offense and a few key players on defense. Connor Shaw, once he’s healed from foot surgery, is the kind of mobile quarterback that gives Todd Grantham fits. And, of course, Jadeveon Clowney is back to pressure Aaron Murray.
As for Clemson, even though they have to replace running back Andre Ellington, the Tigers have one of the nation’s most potent offenses, with a troublesome hurry-up scheme led by terrific QB Tajh Boyd, who, like Georgia’s Murray, is likely to be a Heisman contender. Clemson’s defense — particularly against the pass — is pretty suspect, though, leading many to expect a high-scoring shootout between the Tigers and the Bulldogs. (ABC would love that.)
Georgia’s best hope probably is to establish the running game early with Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, which would set up Mike Bobo’s play-action passing attack, keeping Boyd and the Clemson offense off the field as much as possible.
What worries a lot of us, though, is that in recent years Richt teams tend not to do well in high-profile openers on the road. Plus, an offense like Clemson’s is going to be a rather severe baptism by fire for a rebuilding Georgia defense.
Of the other games, Florida in Jacksonville is always tough, and the Gators should be great on defense again this year. Whether they’ll develop much of an offense remains to be seen.
And while LSU is always stocked with top-notch talent and Mettenberger will have a year of experience as a starter under his belt, I really think he’ll still be the second-best quarterback on the field when he faces old teammate Murray. And on top of LSU’s continuing problems with offensive production, the Tigers’ formerly imposing defense lost even more starters than Georgia’s after last season.
So, I’d say the first two games will be Georgia’s toughest. Picking between Clemson and South Carolina as the more difficult challenge isn’t easy, but I’m going with Spurrier and the Gamecocks, who will be going for their fourth consecutive win over the Bulldogs.
How about you? Which game do you think looks like the toughest for the Dawgs?
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg