Recently, Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated was asked which nonconference game of 2013 he was most looking forward to, and he ranked Georgia vs. Clemson at the top of his list, ahead of Oklahoma-Notre Dame, Notre Dame-Michigan, LSU-TCU (the Aug. 31 Cowboys Classic) and Florida-Miami.
Said Mandel of the Aug. 31 pairing of the Bulldogs and Tigers: “This sporadically re-continued regional rivalry takes on national importance this season, as it’s likely to pit two preseason Top 10 teams and two potential first-round quarterbacks, Georgia’s Aaron Murray and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd. It should also feature a healthy heaping of Tigers receiver Sammy Watkins and strangely overlooked Dawgs running back Todd Gurley. (As a freshman, Gurley ran for 1,385 yards and 17 touchdowns, including 122 yards and two scores in the SEC title game against Alabama.) The winner will gain serious legitimacy going forward, especially if either Georgia’s reloading defense or Clemson’s perennially up-and-down unit can slow the other’s offense. Expect a 45-42 kind of game.”
That’s a pretty fair assessment of this year’s opener for Mark Richt’s Dawgs, and there’s no doubt that, from a fan viewpoint, Georgia-Clemson is the most anticipated nonconference game for UGA in years, easily outdistancing recent pairings with Boise State and Oklahoma State. Not to mention, this may be the last regular-season opportunity for the two former yearly rivals to meet if the SEC does indeed go to nine conference games, as many expect.
But as flashy a matchup as Georgia-Clemson is this year, it’s still a nonconference game, and for many in the Bulldog Nation the games that generally mean the most are those inside the SEC.
So, does the potential pairing of two Top 10 teams in Clemson outshine all those important conference games on Georgia’s schedule this year?
Or are you more looking forward to, say, South Carolina visiting Athens? There are several compelling storylines in that game, including Steve Spurrier’s attempt to win four in a row in the series, the giant question of how the Georgia offense will handle Jadeveon Clowney, and the fact that the winner will be the favorite to win the SEC East (though, as the Gamecocks have found out the past two years, that’s not necessarily a guarantee!).
Of course, there’s another compelling SEC game on Georgia’s overstuffed September 2013 schedule, with LSU coming to Athens. That one will mark the return of strong-armed Zach Mettenberger Between the Hedges, where the Athens area native last wowed fans in a G-Day performance that marked the height of his UGA career before getting kicked off the team.
Then there’s the annual grudge match in Jacksonville with the Gators, which always is a high point for many fans. With former Bulldog-turned-Florida coach Will Muschamp practically promising his fan base that the Bulldogs won’t make it three in a row over the Gators — and a spot in the SEC Championship Game likely hanging in the balance — this one should be even bigger than usual.
As much as I love the Georgia-Clemson rivalry (and wish the two schools could find a way to continue it), I think I have to go with Georgia-South Carolina as the game I’m most looking forward to this season.
How about you?
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg