The countdown is on to Clemson football first in Athens (Georgia) and then back in TigerTown on Sept. 6 (S.C. State).
We’re counting down the Clemson schedule – by strength of schedule – with a quick profile, team I.D. and prediction.
Today, we arrive at the opener in Athens, an early preview for the ACC-SEC showdown next month.
Clemson Countdown to Kickoff
12) S.C. State
11) Georgia State
10) Wake Forest
9) N.C. State
6) Georgia Tech
2) Georgia Bulldogs
Plays Clemson: at Sanford Stadium, Aug. 30, 5:30 p.m. (ESPN).
2013 Record: 8-5 (5-3 SEC, third in the East Division).
Coach: Mark Richt (126-45 career record).
Offense (2013 ranks): Pro-style (Scoring offense: 21, 36.7 PPG; Yards per play: 13, 6.7; Field position advantage: 91).
Defense (2013 ranks): 3-4 (Def. yards per play: 54, 5.4; Scoring defense: 79, 29 PPG; 3rd down defense: 64, 39.5%).
Returning starters: Offense – 5; Defense – 8; Kickers – 2;
2,800-yard passer(s): N/A; 700-yard rushers/receivers returning: RB Todd Gurley (989); 40 catches or more: WR Chris Conley (45); Michael Bennett (41). 80 carries or more: Gurley (165); Brendan Douglas (84); 5 sacks or more: LB Leonard Floyd (6.5); DE Ray Drew (6), LB Jordan Jenkins (5); 65 tackles or more: LB Ramik Wilson (133); LB Amarlo Herrera (112); 8 TFL or more: LB Jordan Jenkins (12), LB Ramik Wilson (11), LB Leonard Floyd (9.5), DE Ray Drew (8); 5 PBUs or more: DB Damian Swann (8), LB Amarlo Herrera (6); 70% FG rate: Marshall Morgan (91.7).
1. Gurley’s still good - Todd Gurley rushed for his season-best total against Clemson last year (154) on just 12 carries, reaching the endzone twice. He missed three games midseason and still rushed for 989 yards and 10 touchdowns. The N.C. product has a 6.1 career yards per carry average, totaling almost 2,400 in his first two seasons as a Dawg. Former five-star prospect Keith Marshall’s status for 2014 isn’t 100 percent certain to due to a knee injury (1,005 career yards/9 TDs), but his presence is more insult to injury for opponents alongside Gurley.
2. Murray for Mason - Hutson Mason has an idea of what Cole Stoudt’s going through preparing for the opener, replacing another record-shattering QB. Aaron Murray finished his Georgia career with SEC records for completions (921), passing yards (13,166), total offense (13,562) and touchdown passes (121). The Marrietta native and fifth-year senior redshirted in 2012 and was forced into action late last season when Murray went down to injury. Mason (6-3 202) completed 61 percent of his throws at 8.8 yards per attempt with five touchdowns and three interceptions. He has as good a receiver trio as any in the SEC in Chris Conley, Michael Bennett and Malcolm Mitchell. The Bulldogs face replacing 109 career starts upfront, returning center David Andrews and tackle John Theus.
3. So, about that defense… - Former Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt – all of one year – is calling the shots in Athens after Todd Grantham took a better offer from Louisville. He takes over a unit that returns a number of key cogs off a defense that was talented yet mediocre-at-best last season. The real fun is in the secondary, where three shoulda-been returning starters have all transferred out for various reasons. Pruitt navigated some turnover with the ‘Noles last year to a top-flight unit, but he has work cut out for him this year.
(Way too early) Georgia pick: 34-33 Bulldogs.
Analysis: The wild cards abound in this one – new QBs, o-line shifts, secondary shuffles and loads of talent on either side of the ball. Over the last three seasons, the Tigers have one win in four tries at ranked road opponents, beating Virginia Tech by 20 in 2011, and losing by 16 points per in the rest. In that span, Georgia is 3-2 against ranked opponents in Sanford Stadium – on top by as much as 38 (Auburn, 2011) and on the wrong side by as much as 15 (Missouri, 2013). Clemson’s no stranger to a tough opener, but the venue’s a bit different – the first at a Big Five conference team’s home field since the trip to Georgia in 2002, a 31-28 heartbreaker. Over the last five seasons, Georgia is 0-3 opening versus ranked opponents, but this is its first try at home. Clemson’s 2-0 in the scenario counting last year’s date with the Dawgs (38-35) and the neutral site win over Auburn (26-19). Dabo Swinney’s club is currently a nine-point underdog, but expect this one to go down to the wire.
Next up: 1) Florida State Seminoles – Are the ‘Noles that good, again?