Georgia, Clemson finally ready to tee it up

ATHENS – Welcome to Game Week.

After months of anticipation, No. 5 Georgia and No. 3 Clemson finally will play five days from now in Charlotte. And it can’t get here fast enough for either side.

ExploreMark Bradley: It’s a big game for Clemson. It’s bigger for UGA

“The last decade, these two programs have represented the best of the best,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney told reporters last week. “Both teams have been in the playoffs, both teams have been in national championships, both teams recruit well, both teams are in the top five preseason and all that stuff. … I mean, it’s a heavyweight matchup right out of the gate.”

That it is.

Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. game (Channel 2 Action News) is the highest-ranked, regular-season matchup in college football in 2021. Nos. 3 and 5 represents the highest combined rankings for the respective teams in their previous 64 matchups. Georgia and Clemson were fifth and eighth, respectively, when they met in Clemson in 2013.

“It’s not like you’re going to have to wait to find out where you are,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said before speaking to the Touchdown Club of Athens last week. “You find out real quick when you’re going against one of the best teams in the country.”

Credit: UGA Athletics

Credit: UGA Athletics

The Tigers definitely have been that under Swinney. They’ve participated in all six incarnations of the College Football Playoff, winning two national championships and playing for two others. Georgia has made one appearance in that span, losing to Alabama in the 2017 national title game.

A lot of people believe one or both of these teams will be in the playoff this year. ESPN College GameDay analysts David Pollack and Lee Corso each predicted that the Bulldogs will win the 2021 national championship on Saturday’s preseason broadcast. Georgia hasn’t won a national championship in football in 41 years.

It’s the first time in 105 years that Georgia and Clemson have faced off at a neutral site. They last did in Anderson, S.C., in 1916. From 1907-14, the teams played annually in Augusta. Otherwise, they’ve always played home-and-home. From 1962-87, that was an annual exercise.

The Charlotte Sports Foundation and broadcaster ABC paid the respective schools $4 million each to play the game at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. It is the featured matchup for the Duke’s Mayo Classic, a college football season kickoff event similar to Atlanta’s Chick-fil-A Kickoff. Appalachian State and East Carolina meet Thursday night in the first game.

Georgia-Clemson is expected to be a tight contest. The Tigers were 3-point favorites as of Monday, according to Bovada.com. That line actually has come down recently. Georgia was getting 4.5 points on some books earlier this summer.

After avoiding talk about the game all summer, the respective teams will discuss the matchup in detail this week. Georgia will hold its weekly media day at lunchtime Monday with Smart and selected players. Swinney and the Tigers will take the podium in Clemson on Tuesday.

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Whether they will admit it or not, both teams have had this matchup on their minds all summer. The players from the respective squads know each other well. The state of Georgia is primary recruiting territory for the Tigers. They have 26 players from the state, the majority hailing from metro Atlanta. And almost all of them were elite recruits. As many as 27 former 5-star prospects could be on the field Saturday between the two teams.

The build-up has made for intense and focused preparations all summer.

“It ramps it up when you are playing a team like Clemson,” Smart told College GameDay on Saturday. “All your guys come fired up and ready to play.”

Five days from now, they finally will.