There are a number of intriguing matchups littered throughout college football’s Week One schedule. The crown jewel of Saturday’s slate pits the Clemson Tigers against the Georgia Bulldogs in the Duke’s Mayo Classic, played at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C. (7:30, ABC).
This heavyweight showdown is the only matchup featuring a pair of top-five programs. The stakes are high as the winner will jump on the fast track to the College Football Playoff, while the loser’s path will become a bit more treacherous.
Online sportsbooks opened Clemson as high as -4.5 with a total of 53.5, but the line has shifted significantly since then. Most shops have landed at the key number of 3.
Clemson Tigers Overview
The book is closed on the Trevor Lawrence era. Sophomore D.J. Uiagalelei will usher in the next chapter of Clemson football. Uiagalelei, a five-star recruit, relieved Lawrence for two games last season. Clemson went 1-1 in those contests, dropping a double OT thriller at Notre Dame. Uiagalelei played well though, throwing for 781 yards and a 4-to-0 TD-INT ratio.
The return of receiver Justyn Ross is big, but he remains a wildcard after missing 2020 with a spinal injury. When — and if — Ross is healthy, he’s a dynamic receiving weapon and posted a 66-865-8 line in 2019.
Tight end Braden Galloway is one to watch after enjoying a mini breakout. He’ll be in position to build on his 27-369-2 line from 2020. The running game will feature some fresh faces as well as the Tigers look to replace Travis Etienne via committee. Senior Lyn-J Dixon will get first crack at leading the backfield group. He has amassed 1,555 yards and 13 touchdowns from scrimmage on 226 career touches.
A young defense that was good last year in spite of injuries could be even better in 2021. Nine starters return, and with natural growth and better luck on the health front, this unit could soar. Keep an eye on sophomore defensive tackle Bryan Bresee in particular.
Head coach Dabo Swinney gushed over his standout sophomore. “He was just living off talent last year and he was the best player. That’s how talented he is. Now he’s more about technique. Not just running around and being disruptive. He’s being disruptive with purpose and a better understanding of the scheme and a way better understanding of the fundamentals.”
Georgia Bulldogs Overview
The keys to Georgia’s success in 2021 are attached to JT Daniels’ right arm. The former highly touted Southern Cal recruit took over in November and the Bulldogs offense proceeded to take off.
Naturally, hopes are high in Athens, but those expectations will need to be met without star wide receiver George Pickens. Pickens, No. 47 on Todd McShay’s big board, tore his ACL in March and is questionable to see the field at all in 2021.
Additionally, the ‘Dawgs may be without LSU transfer, Arik Gilbert, a 6-6, 255-pound five-star tight end. He’s been away from the team for personal reasons and remains without a timetable for a return. Look for Kearis Jackson and Jermaine Burton, a pair of 6-0, 200-pound receivers, to serve as “next men up”. Jackson, a junior, tied for the team lead with 36 receptions and edged Pickens by a yard to pace the team in receiving (514 yards). Burton, a sophomore, will look to build on his impressive debut in which he averaged 15 yards per catch on 27 grabs.
If the passing attack needs some support, they know they’ll always have a dominant ground game to rely upon. Last year’s leading rusher, Zamir White (144 carries, 779 yards), returns to lead a deep running back group that will run behind an elite offensive line.
If the Bulldogs can simply manage the game and avoid unwarranted errors, the defense may be able to do the rest. Georgia tied for 16th in the nation in scoring defense (20 PPG) and 12th in total defense (321 YPG). They’ll need to replace the edge production provided by Azeez Ojulari (8.5 sacks), but they have the talent to do so.
Speaking of talent, Derion Kendrick, a cornerback transfer from Clemson will line up against his former teammates Saturday. Kendrick has the talent to be a top-notch corner — and NFL prospect — but needs to put last season’s off-field issues behind him.
- Clemson-Georgia OVER 50.0 (DraftKings Sportsbook)
- Clemson -2.5 (FanDuel Sportsbook)
- Georgia +130 (DraftKings, PointsBet)
Value on the Bulldogs has evaporated as the spread has shrunk from 4.5 at some shops to 3 at most books as of Friday afternoon. However, backers of the Tigers can head to FanDuel Sportsbook, where Clemson skims under the key number as 2.5-point favorites.
For those still eyeing Georgia, the moneyline offers the best option with the Bulldogs drawing +130 odds at DraftKings and PointsBet.