This Saturday Georgia and Clemson, two schools separated by just 80 miles and only two spots in the national preseason rankings, square off in college football’s most compelling Week One matchup in history.
Though neither coach cares to admit it, the implications of an opening weekend loss would be devastating to their program, both of which share legitimate national championship aspirations. The last team to gain at least a share of a national championship despite losing its opener was Miami in 1983, and it hasn’t happened even once since the BCS era began over 20 years ago.
It’s an amazing statistic, yes, but to be fair, the reason behind the aforementioned streak isn’t necessarily blue chip programs’ ability to win every big game, but rather avoid scheduling the tough ones altogether. Saturday will be only the fifth time since 1998 that a pair of top-five teams have kicked off a season against one another, the most recent being Alabama’s drubbing of Florida State (24-7) in 2017.
This weekend’s matchup will be played on a “neutral” field in Charlotte, though it will likely feel like a home game for Clemson. The Tigers are currently favored by a heavily-juiced 2.5 points, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, with the UGA moneyline hovering around (+130). In other words, Georgia head coach Kirby Smart has painted himself into a precarious little corner: signing up for a season-defining, must-win game that he’s not even favorited to win despite being played on a neutral field.
Smart, of course, sees the challenge as an opportunity—not surprising, given that he intentionally bought out a lesser scheduled non-conference game in order to play the Tigers.
“It will be a national measuring stick for everybody to say, ‘Georgia’s either here or Georgia’s gone.’ I get that. I understand that,” Smart said. “That’s not going to change how we prepare for this game. That’s not going to change how we prepare for the next game. It’s life. It’s what the world is made out of.
“Our fans crave these kind of games,” he continued. “We, as coaches, crave these kinds of games. You find out a lot more about yourselves. For [the media], it’s everything. It’s over if we don’t win. … But for us, it’s an opportunity to grow. It’s going to make us better in our SEC schedule regardless. We’re going to be a better team.”
He’s right about that; the competition will make the Dawgs a better team. As fans we often see these big programs as finished products based on talent alone, but both teams have significant question marks on both sides of the ball. They both have new secondaries and fairly inexperienced quarterbacks. Georgia will run the ball as much as possible (especially given their preseason receiver injuries), while the Tigers will try to bounce back from an 11th place ACC rushing finish in 2020. The talent on the field will be tops in the country, but each team will experience growing pains and gut-check moments, too. The game will feel like a playoff game, but it will just be a regular season contest—an opener, at that.
If anyone can absorb the loss more, it’s Clemson. The Tigers have shown for six straight years that they can easily run the table in the ACC, whereas Georgia faces the ultimate gauntlet of SEC competition year in and year out. Florida is coming. The SEC Championship Game is possibly coming. Losing right out of the gate sets the Bulldogs up for massive demands, both in terms of focus and production. And if history is any indication, a second loss means an automatic disqualification from the College Football Playoff.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney is keeping a level head, though: “When it’s all said and done, I don’t think you can judge either team based on one game.
“A lot can happen in one game, especially in an opener. Nobody’s going to be declared national champion if you win this game.”
And that’s exactly how to approach this game from a number perspective, too. Neither head coach will position this as a ‘must-win’ for their team, but the players will understand the stakes, and will come out in a fervor. Expect hiccups, missed assignments, and slow starts. Playcallers will likely want to knock the rust off with some long, sustained drives and an emphasis on physicality, which helps calm the nerves.
I can see a low-scoring first half (the FD total is set at 23.5, which admittedly leaves a dangerous hook hanging under a key 24 number), but the bet I like most is UGA 1H moneyline (+145). Give me the extra juice on an ugly coin-flip first half in which Georgia will try to grind Clemson into the ground.
More importantly, whether you fade or follow the 1H action, do NOT forget to place your boosted 30-1 wager on either team. Bet up to $5 on either Georgia or Clemson to win and FanDuel Sportsbook will boost your odds to 30-1 odds. This offer is valid for new users only in all legal states where FanDuel Sportsbook operates.
If you’re going to be in the Charlotte area on Saturday, be sure to keep an eye out for OutKick’s College Football Tour bus, which will be in town to tailgate and interact with fans. Clay and the Outkick 360 gang kicked off the season tour last night in Knoxville to big crowds and great success. We can’t wait to see you in Charlotte.