Matchup: #16 Clemson Tigers vs. #12 Georgia Bulldogs
Date/Time: August 30, 5:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Georgia -7.5
The Clemson Tigers and Georgia Bulldogs met in the season opener last year, and it was Clemson winning 34-31 in a very high quality game. Georgia actually outgained Clemson 545-467, but Clemson won the turnover battle and the game. This time around the game will be played in Athens, and Georgia enters as a 7.5 point favorite.
Clemson has to replace quarterback Tajh Boyd and that won’t be easy. Boyd set all kinds of records in his time at the school, and he was like a coach on the field. Cole Stoudt will get the first crack at stepping into the starting quarterback job at Clemson. Stoudt is a senior who knows Chad Morris’ offensive system well, but I’m not sure if he has the skillset to fit right in. If he doesn’t, Deshaun Watson will likely see time at the signal caller spot as well this season. At running back, Clemson lost their reading rusher, but they return plenty of talent. Wayne Gallman and Tyshon Dye should share time here. Replacing Sammy Watkins isn’t going to be easy. He was the guy the other team had to game plan for. Martavius Bryant is also gone. There is no top notch play maker left at the receiver spot.
The strength of this Clemson team is their defensive line. It is among the very best in the nation. They were number one in the nation in tackles for loss last year, and they’ll likely be there again in 2014. Vic Beasley is going to be a monster in his senior season at defensive end. The linebackers are less experienced this year, but they aren’t lacking talent. The secondary has a future star in redshirt freshman Mackensie Alexander. Clemson needs to be able to win with defense this season.
The Georgia Bulldogs are a team I’m very high on coming into this year. Georgia had higher expectations last year, and they finished at just 8-5. The Bulldogs are flying just enough under the radar for me to like them quite a bit in 2014. The loss of Aaron Murray certainly hurts, but Hutson Mason got a lot of quality time under center at the end of last year when Murray was injured. In addition, it is a lot easy to play quarterback when you have running backs behind you like Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. There isn’t a more talented tailback tandem in the nation. Georgia seems to always field a strong offensive line. Malcolm Mitchell is back to lead an ultra-talented group of receivers. To say that this offense has some nice parts is a real understatement. If they stay healthy, Georgia’s offense will be very tough in 2014.
Last year, Georgia returned only three starters on defense. Despite that, the defense put up respectable numbers. The Bulldogs allowed just 3.7 yards per carry and 227 yards per game through the air. The secondary was a bit weaker than in recent years, but given their inexperience, I thought this unit did a really nice job. They return eight guys this season, and I expect a big improvement on this side of the ball for Georgia. Led by Ramik Wilson, Georgia’s linebackers may be the best in the nation.
Free College Football Pick: Georgia -7.5
I’m not a big fan of laying more than a touchdown here. If this were 7 instead, I’d feel much better about it. Still, Clemson has a lot more question marks surrounding their team than Georgia. The Bulldogs really outplayed them on the road last year, and I expect Georgia to put together an impressive performance this Saturday.
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