The college football season is back in full force this weekend, headlined by a top-five showdown in Charlotte. The Clemson Tigers and the Georgia Bulldogs will meet in a huge match-up to open the season. Each of these programs has big expectations for the 2021 campaign. They will both be looking to challenge for their respective conference titles and a spot in the College Football Playoff. There will be loads of elite talent on display, and whichever team wins will make a statement to the rest of the nation.
Clemson and Georgia Meet in Top Five Showdown
Playing a high-level opponent in week one brings both positives and negatives to the table. On one hand, a team has to be at their best right from the start to handle such a tough assignment. First game jitters and early season mistakes can not be as prevalent. The flip side is that opening the year with a big-time match-up brings an added level of pressure. That pressure usually leads to teams being more focused through fall camp knowing there is little margin for error.
The Tigers are no stranger to big-time match-ups. They have been at or near the top of the college football landscape for the last six years. Dabo Swinney‘s team does have some questions to answer leading into such a crucial game to start the 2021 slate. If they are to make a statement and beat the Bulldogs on Saturday, they will need some new stars to emerge on offense. D.J. Uiagalelei will be making his third career start under center, and it is his team now.
Clemson will also be breaking in new starters at wide receiver and tailback. The return from the injury of Justyn Ross is huge for this team. If fully healthy he gives them a number one option on the outside. Frank Ladsen Jr., E.J. Williams, and Joseph Ngata will join Ross in the receiving corps. Freshman Will Shipley has stepped up to challenge for the starting tailback spot. He is an electric playmaker with the ball in his hands and will share touches with veteran Lynn-J Dixon.
Luckily for the Tigers, they will have a safety net to help them as they solidify who will step up on offense. The defense, led by Tyler Davis, James Skalski, and Lannden Zanders should be back to its dominant best.
Dawg Day Afternoon
Kirby Smart‘s Georgia program is on paper one of the most talented teams in the country. Now they must show they can translate that talent in big-time performances against big-time opponents. A top-five showdown to open the season is the perfect opportunity. Their biggest issue in high-profile match-ups has been the inability to score as much as they need to. That will be the key this weekend, but won’t be easy against a loaded Tiger defense.
JT Daniels had over 300 yards passing in three of the four games he played in last fall. His development is key to the Bulldogs’ hopes in 2021. Smart’s grind it out, defense first, rely on better talent style has worked to elevate the Georgia program. However, in order to compete for championships, this team’s offense needs to evolve into one that can score 30 or more points against high-level opponents. They open the season with a chance to prove they have taken that step. Zamir White and James Cook will form a talented tandem at tailback. The running game will be as solid as it always seems to be in Athens.
The question will be can Daniels and the passing game be explosive enough to keep Clemson off balance. Jermaine Burton showed flashes of brilliance as a true freshman. He will need to have a big impact if the Bulldogs want to win on Saturday. Georgia has the talent to compete with anyone. Now they have to show they can step when they face a team just as talented. The defense is again loaded and will look to force Uiagalelei into some mistakes. The offense will be the key, as the Bulldogs have to show they have the ability to win games that are shootouts as well as ones that are fistfights.
Making a Statement
The expectations are high for both of these programs. A win in a top-five showdown to open the season will only raise them. A loss in this match-up and the margin for error to remain in College Football Playoff contention becomes razor-thin. The Tigers relish big-time games with SEC opponents, especially since the rest of their schedule rarely provides these opportunities. The Bulldogs will be looking to make their own headlines, and show that they can beat the teams at the very top of the college football landscape. Limiting mistakes will be a key as always. In-game with this much talent on the field, it may just come down to which players can step up and make something special happen. College football is back, and there is no better way for it to return than with a prime-time match-up like this.