The national championship aspirations of two of the leading CFP title contenders will be changing Saturday a boost for the winner and a downgrade for the loser when No. 3 Clemson and No. 5 Georgia meet in a neutral site Week 1 showdown. When the Tigers face the Bulldogs in Charlotte, North Carolina, we will get an iron-sharpens-iron battle of teams loaded with some the top talent in college football. According to the 247Sports Team Talent Composite, Clemson and Georgia are two of the most talent-rich teams in all of college football. When you consider the recruiting success of both Kirby Smart and Dabo Swinney, its not crazy to think we’ll look back on this season-opening game years down the road and marvel at the future NFL talent on both sides of the ball.
Both defenses are expected to be among the top 10, if not top five, units nationally. Both quarterbacks — Clemson’s D.J. Uiagalelei and Georgia’s JT Daniels — find themselves among the top four names on the 2021 Heisman Trophy odds board. While it’s possible the loser of this game could win out and still make it to the College Football Playoff — potentially with a rematch opportunity — the winner has a clear path to the postseason with a quality nonconference win to offset any slip-ups in conference play.
It’s easy to overstate Week 1 matchups because of the anticipation that builds through a long offseason, but this game is absolutely worth the hype.
Clemson vs. Georgia: Need to know
Clemson’s post-Trevor Lawrence era begins: Lawrence went 34-2 as a starter, leading the Tigers to three playoff appearances, two national championship games and one title, a game in which he threw for more than 300 yards against Alabama as a true freshman. His winning percentage as a starting quarterback is among the best in FBS history, trailing only Miami’s Ken Dorsey and USC’s Matt Leinart. Now, Clemson begins the next chapter with Uiagalelei, but there is little to panic about. Uiagalelei not only has the recruiting profile worthy of being next in a growing line of elite Clemson QBs, he’s already proven it on the field with prolific performances against Boston College and Notre Dame last season. Even the most conservative thinking believes that Uiagalelei’s size and skill set, coupled with the weapons in the wide receiver room, will allow Clemson’s offense to be an effective counterpart to any elite defense. The more aggressive takes include the idea that Uiagalelei will be even better than Lawrence. Our first real data point in that argument starts Saturday night against Georgia.
Daniels looks to build on 2020 success: Georgia also has plenty to prove on offense. Daniels hopes to start the year with the same kind of success he found at the end of 2020. He threw for 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions in four straight wins after being named the starter. Once Daniels was cleared to play, the Bulldogs started to show changes to their offensive approach. Hitting more explosive plays through the passing game will be a necessity not only to beat Clemson but to win the SEC and contend for a title. That effort has been hindered at least a little with the loss of star wide receiver George Pickens, who was knocked out of spring practice with a knee injury in March. Pickens’ return is uncertain enough that Daniels and the rest of the offense need to move forward. The wideout certainly won’t be able to help on the field against a Clemson and might not be in the lineup for a majority of the season.
Georgia’s secondary features a familiar face: Rebuilding Georgia’s secondary for 2021 after losing four NFL Draft picks required the addition of some instant-impact contributors via the transfer portal. Tykee Smith was one of the best cornerbacks in the country at West Virginia last season and he is expected to maintain that level of play with the Bulldogs eventually. However, he is doubtful for Saturday after suffering a foot injury in fall camp. Georgia also got a boost from adding Derion Kendrick, an All-ACC cornerback for Clemson before he was dismissed from the program on Feb. 28. Kendrick was a five-star prospect coming out of high school in the same recruiting class as Lawrence, and in 2020, he was the Tigers’ leader in passes defended. Now, Kendrick will line up opposite the same players used to face in practice. And he’ll be looking to win the kind of game that could propel him towards his second national championship as a college player.
How to watch Clemson vs. Georgia live
Date: Saturday, Sept. 4 | Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Location: Bank of America Stadium — Charlotte, North Carolina
TV: ABC | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Clemson vs. Georgia prediction, picks
Featured Game | Clemson Tigers vs. Georgia Bulldogs
Clemson doesn’t really lose in Charlotte. I understand that facing Georgia is not the same as whoever the ACC Coastal spits out for the Tigers in their annual playoff warm-up, but there’s little “neutral” about Bank of America Stadium. I like Clemson’s edge because of its quarterback advantage. Uiagalelei has the kind of dual-threat playmaking ability that might be needed in a close, heavyweight-style fight. “Big Game Dabo” has put the ball in the hands of his quarterback in crunch-time situations for nearly a decade — from Tajh Boyd to Deshaun Watson to Lawrence and now Uiagalelei. D.J. is the difference, and Clemson will win by a touchdown. Prediction: Clemson (-3)
Which college football picks can you make with confidence in Week 1, and which national title contender will go down hard? Visit SportsLine to see which teams will win and cover the spread — all from a proven computer model that has returned over $3,600 in profit over the past five-plus seasons — and find out.