TOP 5 TEAMS CLASH AS CLEMSON FACES GEORGIA IN PRIME TIME Clemson will kick off its 2021 campaign on Saturday, Sept. 4 with one of the nation’s most anticipated games of the season, as the No. 3/2 Tigers face the No. 5/5 Georgia Bulldogs in a neutral-site rivalry renewal. Kickoff at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET. Even for a series that previously featured contests that propelled the schools to national championships in consecutive years in 1980 (Georgia) and 1981 (Clemson), from a rankings standpoint, the regional rivalry has never been grander. Clemson and Georgia have met with both schools in the AP Top 10 only once: No. 8 Clemson’s 38-35 victory against No. 5 Georgia in 2013. Saturday’s matchup will represent the first time the two schools will meet with both programs in the AP Top 5. Including games against No. 2 Notre Dame and No. 3 Ohio State to end last season, the opener against No. 5 Georgia will be Clemson’s third straight contest against an AP Top 5 opponent. The stretch marks Clemson’s first time in school history facing three consecutive AP Top 5 opponents. With a No. 5 ranking in both the AP and Coaches Polls, this 2021 Georgia squad will tie for the second highest-ranked opponent Clemson has faced in a season opener in school history. Prior to 2021, Clemson’s highest-ranked season opener according to the AP Poll came in 1963, when Head Coach Frank Howard’s Tigers fell on the road to No. 4 Oklahoma, 31-14. Clemson’s three next highest-ranked season openers have all come against Georgia, including contests against No. 5 Georgia in 2013, No. 6 Georgia in 1982 and No. 8 Georgia in 2002. The contest will be Clemson’s first since a 49-28 defeat at the hands of Ohio State to end the 2020 season, but Clemson has historically responded well following losses under Head Coach Dabo Swinney. Swinney’s Clemson teams are 26-6 in games following a loss, including season openers following a loss in the previous season finale. Clemson has played 127 games since losing back-to-back contests, the longest active streak in the nation and the longest in ACC history, per ESPN. Clemson’s last time losing back-to-back games came in 2011, a note Clemson will try to keep active with a victory on Saturday.
– Clemson, which is already the first team in ACC history to win six consecutive outright titles, attempting to become the first team in ACC history to win seven consecutive ACC titles outright. (Note: Florida State earned at least a share of nine consecutive ACC titles from 1992-2000 but never earned more than three consecutive titles outright.) – Clemson attempting to become the first team in any active conference to win seven consecutive outright conference titles. Clemson’s six consecutive outright titles from 2015-20 are tied with the 2015-20 Oklahoma Sooners for the longest streak of outright conference championships of any current conference. – Clemson attempting to join Oklahoma (12 straight Big 8 titles from 1948-59) and BYU (seven straight WAC titles from 1978-84) as the only FBS teams ever to win seven consecutive outright conference titles. Oklahoma can also reach that mark again with a conference title this year. – Clemson attempting to become the first program to win 21 ACC titles. Since helping form the conference in 1953, Clemson leads the ACC with 20 titles all-time, including 19 outright. – Clemson attempting to become the first team ever to earn seven consecutive College Football Playoff berths. Clemson’s six-year streak is both the longest active streak and the longest streak in CFP history. – Clemson attempting to win 10 games for a schoolrecord 11th consecutive season. Clemson is presently one of three FBS programs ever to post 10 consecutive 10-win seasons alongside Florida State (14 from 1987- 2000) and Alabama (13 from 2008-20). Clemson is already the only school to win 10 games in 10 straight seasons as a member of the ACC, as only the final nine of Florida State’s 14-straight 10-win seasons came during the Seminoles’ tenure in the ACC. – Clemson attempting to finish in the AP Top 5 for a seventh consecutive season, which would tie USC (2002-08), Miami (Fla.) (1986-92) and Oklahoma (1952-58) for the second-longest streak in poll history behind Florida State (14 straight from 1987-2000). Dabo Swinney would join Bobby Bowden, Pete Carroll and Bud Wilkinson as the only coaches ever to produce seven consecutive AP Top 5 finishes. – Clemson (94) attempting to remain ranked in the AP Top 10 for six more consecutive polls to join Miami (Fla.) (137 straight AP Top 10 rankings from 1985-93) as the only programs ever to rank in the Top 10 of 100 consecutive AP Polls. (Note: Alabama can also accomplish this feat, as its 94-poll active streak currently matches Clemson’s). – Clemson (57 straight polls in the AP Top 5) attempting to rank in the Top 5 of 11 more consecutive AP Polls to tie (or 12 more consecutive AP Polls to break) Alabama’s record of 68 consecutive polls in the AP Top 5 from 2015-19.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR THIS WEEK – Clemson and Georgia staging only the fourth season opening game of two AP Top 5 teams since 2000, according to The Athletic’s Matt Brown. The others include No. 1 Alabama’s 24-7 win against No. 3 Florida State in 2017, No. 4 LSU’s 40-27 win against No. 3 Oregon in 2011 and No. 5 Miami’s 16-10 win against No. 4 Florida State in 2004. Prior to 2004, the two most recent such games were in 1999 (No. 3 Penn State 41, No. 4 Arizona 7) and 1986 (No. 1 Oklahoma 38, No. 4 UCLA 3). – Clemson attempting to earn a 14th all-time victory against an AP Top 5 opponent. Ten of Clemson’s 13 all-time wins against AP Top 5 teams have come under Head Coach Dabo Swinney. – Clemson attempting to improve to 10-6 all-time in games between two AP Top 5 teams. Clemson is 7-4 since 2016 when both teams enter a game in the AP Top 5. – Clemson playing a third straight contest against an AP Top 5 opponent for the first time in school history. Clemson has played back-to-back games against Top 5 teams five times, including the 2015 College Football Playoff (No. 4 Oklahoma and No. 2 Alabama), 2016 College Football Playoff (No. 2 Ohio State and No. 1 Alabama), 2018 College Football Playoff (No. 3 Notre Dame and No. 1 Alabama), 2019 College Football Playoff (No. 2 Ohio State and No. 1 LSU) and the current streak dating to the final two games of 2020 (No. 2 Notre Dame and No. 3 Ohio State). – Clemson attempting to improve to 15-11 all-time in games between AP Top 10 teams. A win would push Clemson to 10-4 in games between AP Top 10 teams since the start of the 2016 season. For more on Clemson’s history in games between Top 10 opponents, see the “Top 10 History” section later in the notes. – Clemson and Georgia meeting with both teams ranked in the AP Top 25 for the fifth time in series history. The series is tied at 2-2 in games in which both teams are ranked. – Clemson and Georgia facing off with both teams in the AP Top 10 for only the second time in series history, joining No. 8 Clemson’s 38-35 defeat of No. 5 Georgia in 2013. – Clemson playing its third neutral-site season opener in school history (including games in Atlanta against Alabama in 2008 and against Auburn in 2012) and its fourth off-site opener, including one against Alabama in Birmingham in 1904. – Clemson opening a season against another Power Five Conference opponent outside of the ACC for the first time since 2016, when Clemson earned a 19-13 win at Auburn to kick off a national championship season. – Clemson opening a season against an SEC opponent for the fifth time under Head Coach Dabo Swinney. Clemson is 3-1 in season openers against SEC foes in his tenure, including a 1-1 mark against Georgia. – Clemson entering the neutral-site showdown with Georgia having won six of its last seven neutral-site regular season games.
Let’s Get It Started For the 20th time in school history, Georgia will open a season against a ranked opponent as the Bulldogs battle Clemson (ranked No. 3 in Associated Press poll, No. 2 in the USA Today Coaches poll). The Bulldogs are 9-9-1 in these games. This will be Georgia’s first-ever top five matchup to open a season, the previous best was in 2013 when the fifth-ranked Bulldogs were outlasted by eight-ranked Clemson 38-35 in Clemson. The highest ranked opponent in a Georgia opener has been third-ranked Alabama thrice (1961-63) with the Crimson Tide beating an unranked Bulldog team in those contests. Georgia’s last season opener to feature a pair of ranked teams came in the debut of the Kirby Smart era when the No. 18 Bulldogs beat No. 22 North Carolina 34-22 in the 2016 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic in Atlanta. The Bulldogs are 5-0 in season openers under Smart. Overall, the Bulldogs are 97-27-3 in season openers including winning their last seven dating back to a 45-21 win over Clemson in Athens in 2014, which marks the last time these programs have faced each other. The Georgia-Clemson series dates back to 1897, and the Bulldogs hold a 42-18-4 advantage. Preseason Top Five Again Georgia checks in at No. 5 in the AP preseason Top 25 poll as well as the Coaches poll. This marks the fourth consecutive season that the Bulldogs begin in the top five. Georgia opens up against Clemson in the Duke’s Mayo Classic in Charlotte at Bank of America Stadium, and the Tigers were picked No. 3 in the AP and No. 2 in the Coaches poll. The first College Football Playoff (CFP) ranking will be released in October. Georgia will refer to the AP and Coaches poll rankings until the CFP’s weekly rankings. Secondary Shuffle For Addae While some may refer to Georgia as “RBU”, one could make a case for “DBU” with the recent Bulldogs now in the NFL including four who were drafted last season (Eric Stokes, 1st Round, Green Bay; Tyson Campbell, 2nd Round, Jacksonville; Richard LeCounte, 5th round, Cleveland; Mark Webb, 7th round, L.A. Chargers). To help offset these losses, Georgia landed a pair talented players via the transfer portal in All-ACC first teamer Derion Kendrick (Clemson) and All-America Tykee Smith (West Virginia). However, Smith went down with a foot injury in camp. Secondary coach Jahmile Addae is in his first season at Georgia after spending the last two years with the Mountaineers. He inherited a few veterans in the secondary in seniors Latavious Brini, Christopher Smith and Ameer Speed plus junior Lewis Cine. A few young Bulldogs who made strides in camp include redshirt freshmen Kelee Ringo and Jalen Kimber, early enrollee Nyland Green and freshman Kamari Lassiter. Offensive Potential In 2021 The 2021 season will be the second under Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken. In 2020, the Bulldogs went 8-2 and employed three different signal callers. Georgia averaged 32.3 points/game, which ranked fifth in the SEC. When JT Daniels became the starter in late November, Georgia went 4-0 the rest of the season with wins over Mississippi State, South Carolina, No. 25 Missouri and No. 8 Cincinnati in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. The Bulldogs did not have the benefit of a 2020 spring practice to install a new offense because of the COVID-19 pandemic. For many of Georgia’s players, the 2021 spring practice was their first.
2020 Opener Flashback: No. 4 Bulldogs Down Hogs On The Road Facing former UGA offensive line coach and current Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman in Fayetteville, Ark., the Bulldogs overcame a slow start to whip the Razorbacks 37-10. Georgia trailed 7-5 at the half, tallying only a safety and a field goal. However, WR George Pickens hauled in a 19-yard touchdown catch from Stetson Bennett in his first start at quarterback to take a 13-10 lead with six minutes left in the third quarter and the Bulldogs rolled from that point on. TE John FitzPatrick and RB Zamir White also scored for Georgia while former DB Eric Stokes returned an interception 30 yards for another score. In addition, PK Jack Podlesny made his debut and finished 2-for-2 with a pair of 38-yard field goals.