Georgia Bulldogs: ACC

We started a series this week looking at some of the ACC’s most meaningful rivalries, and predicting whetherthe most recent trends are going to change in 2014. Can the underdogs stop the losing streaks?

It’s Georgia Tech’s turn to answer:

The series: Georgia leads, 64-39-5

Last meeting: Nov. 30, 2013: Georgia 41, Georgia Tech 34 (2OT)

The streak: Georgia Tech has five straight losses to the Bulldogs and seven consecutive losses at home to UGA. The Jackets have not beaten their in-state rival since a 45-42 win in Athens in 2008. It was Georgia Tech’s first win in the series since 2000.

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Will Georgia Tech beat Georgia in 2014?

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    17%
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    83%

Discuss (Total votes: 3,575)

The skinny: Georgia’s biggest offseason recruit might have been former Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. He’s got a tough task, turning around a defense that has struggled in the past two seasons, while Georgia Tech’s defense has shown significant improvement in the past year under coordinator Ted Roof. Still, the Jackets have to replace three starters on the defensive line, including standout end Jeremiah Attaochu, while Georgia returns 10 starters to its defense. Offensively, Georgia has to replace record-setting quarterback Aaron Murray, as well as three starters on the offensive line. Georgia Tech will also have a new starting quarterback following the transfer of Vad Lee, and Justin Thomas is the leading candidate this spring. Like Georgia, the Jackets also have to replace three starting offensive linemen. While there are several similarities on paper, expectations are much higher for Georgia this season.

The prediction: Georgia Tech has a bye week to prepare for a road trip to Georgia, but it won’t be enough to overcome Georgia’s defense -- or a healthy Todd Gurley, who could be a Heisman contender. Dawgs win. Pruitt didn’t have the pleasure of scheming for Paul Johnson’s spread option offense while on Florida State’s staff last year, so there’s no advantage from that aspect, but there is an edge in the fact that he’s been part of three straight national titles. An SEC East title could be next.

Grantham ready for a new challenge

February, 13, 2014
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Todd Grantham had his reasons.

When Georgia’s defensive coordinator left for the same position at Louisville, many outside the program were perplexed by the move.

To Grantham, though, it was as simple as an opportunity – he said he believes Louisville can win a national title as an ACC member. He pointed to the athletic administration’s support of the program and called Tom Jurich “one of the top ADs in the country.” He pointed to the success Bobby Petrino already has had at Louisville, and said, “in my mind, they were going to do it again, only this time work to do it better.” The chance for Grantham to hire his brother, Tony, from Navy, was important to him and his family. All of those things, he said, coupled with Louisville’s move to the ACC in time for the start of the College Football Playoff, lured him away from the SEC.

[+] EnlargeTodd Grantham
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsTodd Grantham sees Louisville as a national championship contender now that they're in the ACC.
“In reality, if you can win the ACC, your chances of being in that tournament are really good,” Grantham said. “The combination of all those things intrigued me, and it was something I felt like I wanted to try to do and I look forward to it.”

He’s also looking forward to the challenge he’ll get it in Year 1.

Grantham inherits a defense that loses seven starters, including five in the front seven, both safeties and the leading pass rusher from the 2013 season. Louisville has to replace linebacker Preston Brown (who led the team in tackles), defensive end Marcus Smith (second in the nation in sacks), and the stellar safety duo of Hakeem Smith (first-team All-American Athletic Conference) and Calvin Pryor (second in tackles).

“That’s part of coaching,” Grantham said. “That’s why it’s important to recruit and develop players. We’ll work with the players we have. Everyone is kind of new right now. Everyone will get a chance. We’ll evaluate everyone and give them a chance to compete for a starting job.”

Grantham compared it to when he arrived at Georgia, and everyone wanted to know how he was going to replace Justin Houston, who had left early for the NFL.

“The big topic then was we had nobody to rush the passer,” Grantham said. “Low and behold, a guy named Jarvis Jones comes along and has 28 sacks in two years and we’re all good again.”

Jones, who was drafted last spring in the first round by the Pittsburgh Steelers and still talks to Grantham on a regular basis, said Grantham would invite the defensive players to his house for a barbecue, and they’d go out to eat as a defense so everyone knew that it wasn’t “just about football.” Jones said he wasn’t surprised by Grantham’s decision to leave Georgia.

“There’s always opportunities,” Jones said. “He probably felt like his opportunity was better, or they put him in a better situation. You never know what’s going on, man. I know he loved the University of Georgia, he loved the guys he had there, but you never know why. I’m sure the guys there are going to love him. The fans at Louisville are going to love him. He brings so much energy to the game. The stuff he did for us at Georgia was great. He’s got that demeanor about him, and it shows. We had the top defense and coach Grantham and his staff was the reason why.”

As he did at Georgia, Grantham plans to change Louisville from a 4-3 to a 3-4 base defense. With the exception of last season, when the Bulldogs were a young, injury-laden group and the scoring defense was ranked No. 79 in the country at 29 points per game, Georgia’s defense received high praise under Grantham during his four seasons as defensive coordinator.

[+] EnlargeJarvis Jones
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesFormer Georgia standout Jarvis Jones raves about playing for Todd Grantham.
Last year’s group still finished eighth in the country in tackles for loss and 28th in sacks. Grantham said he will continue to employ an attacking-style philosophy. He said that heading into last season, Georgia forced 62 turnovers in two years, second only to LSU (63), and that’s why they were able to get to the SEC title game twice.

He has the same plan in the ACC.

“We’re upgrading our schedule and going into a major conference, so we’re going to be playing some talented teams. Anytime the playing field becomes equal like that, your turnover ratio becomes a very critical stat. When you get the ball one more time than the other team, your chances of winning go up about 93 or 95 percent.”

More often than not, it worked.

In 2012, Georgia ended the season ranked 18th in the country in scoring defense, holding five opponents to 10 or fewer points, and finishing eighth nationally in pass defense. In his second season at Georgia, the defense finished fifth nationally in total defense, third in third-down defense, fifth in interceptions, and seventh in turnovers gained (32), which ranked first in the SEC.

“Coach Grantham had a tremendous impact on myself,” said former Georgia defensive tackle John Jenkins, who said he was the first player Grantham recruited. “He pushed me to limits I never thought I could reach. He’s a coach who understands players. He’s not a coach who has one way. He knows how to adjust and evolve his coaching style to fit everybody. He’s a go-getter type coach. He allows you to express yourself on and off the field.

“They’re going to love him,” Jenkins said. “They’re going to love him. I believe that with my heart.”

Early Offer: Future is now 

February, 3, 2014
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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Monday's offerings: With signing day two days away, most schools are already targeting 2015 recruits and having junior days, but some coaches question whether these early commits stick in the long run; and who would have thought we would see Mark Richt posing for selfies with recruits?

Juniors take center stage


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The SEC has come to dominate its annual rivalry showdowns against the ACC, but that may not be the case this year. Florida State is a heavy favorite to blow out downtrodden Florida; No.6 Clemson has a great shot at knocking off inconsistent No. 10 South Carolina; and Georgia Tech could have an edge on injury-depleted Georgia. Indeed, the ACC has a real shot to sweep these three games for the first time since 2000. ACC reporter Andrea Adelson and SEC reporter Chris Low debate whether that will happen.

[+] EnlargeClemson's Tajh Boyd versus Florida State
AP Photo/Don Juan MooreTajh Boyd and Clemson, derailed by Florida State, look to end their losing streak against South Carolina.
AA: Chris, we are on a collision course for an epic SEC-ACC headliner in the BCS national championship game if Florida State and Alabama can win out to get there. But this weekend is extremely important for the ACC, which continues to play in the shadows of its conference rival. The league got off to a great start earlier this year, when Clemson beat Georgia and Miami beat Florida. But these three games have much bigger stakes. I think we can all agree Florida State is almost a guarantee to beat Florida. To me, the spotlight shines brightest on the Clemson-South Carolina game. The Tigers have lost four straight in the series, and this is Tajh Boyd's last chance to beat his team's bitter rival. In July, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney made headlines when he said he saw fear in Boyd's eyes last year. To be sure, Boyd didn't play his best game against the Gamecocks last season, nor did he play well against Florida State in an embarrassing 51-14 loss earlier this year. Something tells me he is going to be ready in this one. Do you think Clemson and Dabo Swinney have what it takes to beat South Carolina and Steve Spurrier?

CL: Andrea, you know I love you, but the ACC sweeping the SEC? In football? There's a better chance of soccer supplanting football as the sport of choice in the SEC. Let me start, though, by saying Florida State is legit, perhaps the most talented roster I've seen from top to bottom this season in college football. So you'll get no argument from me about the Seminoles. But since you asked about Clemson and South Carolina, that's a tough one to call. The Gamecocks have been tough to figure this season. Here they are with nine wins and a chance to win 10 in the regular season for a third straight year, and it's true they have some quality wins. But they've also sort of played just well enough to win at times. That's not going to cut it against Clemson. The Gamecocks should be healthy, including Clowney and Mike Davis. Backup running back Brandon Wilds also looks like he's ready to go, which will give even more punch to South Carolina's running game. At the end of the day, I'm not sure Clemson will be able to block South Carolina's front or stop the Gamecocks' running game. And there's just something about the Head Ball Coach in these kind of rivalry games. Gotta see it to believe it before I pick Clemson again in this game. I've learned my lesson after picking the Tigers the last few years.

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsGeorgia will play rival Georgia Tech in its first outing without starting QB Aaron Murray.
AA: It is easy to understand the trepidation. It is true Clemson has not done much to inspire confidence in this series, especially when you consider the Tigers have not scored more than 17 points in any of the last four losses. But I was at the South Carolina-UCF game earlier this year. I watched much of the Florida game a few weeks ago. South Carolina lost to a 4-7 Tennessee team, right? And Spurrier NEVER loses to Tennessee. Nor does he EVER lose to Georgia. He did both this year. This could be the year he hits the losing trifecta against some of his bitter rivals. Now let's shift over to the other rivalry game that could go the ACC's way: Georgia Tech at Georgia. The Bulldogs are so banged up right now, I have to think the Jackets have a really great opportunity to steal this one. Losing Aaron Murray has got to be such a tremendous blow not just from an on-the-field standpoint but from a leadership standpoint. The one constant over the last four seasons has been Murray. How on earth does Georgia respond without the heart of the team?

CL: More than anything, there's a profound sadness around that Georgia program that Murray won't be able to finish his senior season. He has meant so much to the Bulldogs both on and off the field and has been a rock this season through all the adversity. It just doesn't seem fair. You're right, though. Murray is one of those players you can't just all of a sudden replace. But the good news for Georgia is that Todd Gurley appears to be healthier, and I think the whole team will be eager to go out and get this done for Murray. A bigger question for me is how Georgia will fare defensively against Georgia Tech's option offense, although the Bulldogs have been better against the run than the pass this season. They're third in the SEC in rushing defense.

AA: Another great point. As for the actual picks in the game, our colleague, Heather Dinich, predicted an ACC sweep. I did not go that far, but I did pick two close games in the Clemson-South Carolina and Georgia-Georgia Tech games. So did you. If the games are indeed as close as anticipated, well, anything can happen.

ACC has chance to sweep SEC rivals

November, 25, 2013
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The ACC has a great chance this week to make history, to do something it hasn’t done in over a decade -- sweep its big three SEC rivals.

Georgia is down. Florida is out. And South Carolina is beatable.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Don Juan Moore/Getty ImagesQB Jameis Winston and the Seminoles are a win over Florida away from heading to the ACC title game.
Not since 2000 has the ACC gone 3-0 in those games, and the conference hasn’t had a winning record against the SEC since 2003, when it finished 5-4. The ACC started the season with gusto, as Clemson beat Georgia in a matchup of two top-10 teams, and Miami beat Florida, giving coach Al Golden his first true marquee win with the Canes. The perception of those wins -- and those opponents -- has since been tarnished, thanks to the decline of both SEC teams this fall, but the value of wins over those programs still far outweighs the negativity that would surround the ACC should it lose those games this week.

Every season, pressure is on the ACC -- and every other BCS conference -- to close the gap with the SEC. The difference between the ACC and the rest of the college football world, though, is that the SEC’s shadow overlaps with ACC country like no other, and nobody lines up against the nation’s best conference more than the ACC. The comparisons are inevitable not only because of the close proximity and the shared recruiting turf, but also because of the built-in rivalries that highlight every November.

The difference this year is that not only can the ACC win these games, but it should be expected to.

Georgia, which dropped out of the rankings in Week 9, has lost starting quarterback Aaron Murray for the rest of the season with a torn ACL -- a devastating blow to a team already riddled with injuries. The senior injured his left knee in Saturday’s 59-17 win against Kentucky. For the first time since 2009, the Bulldogs will line up with a different quarterback under center. Hutson Mason, who redshirted last year, will face a much-improved Georgia Tech defense. The Jackets have won four of their past five games, the lone loss coming to Clemson. The bigger issue in Atlanta, though, has been the lopsided results in the series. Last season's 42-10 drubbing in Athens was the 11th time in 12 years that Georgia had won. The exception was in 2008, Paul Johnson’s first season, when Georgia Tech pulled off a stunning 45-42 upset of No. 11-ranked Georgia.

This season, it wouldn’t be so stunning. And it wouldn’t exactly be an upset. In fact, of the ranked teams playing this week, the ACC has the upper hand.

For both No. 6 Clemson and No. 2 Florida State, BCS bowls are at stake, though many would agree that Clemson could actually afford to lose to South Carolina and still be a top pick for the Discover Orange Bowl. Those within the program, though, would obviously prefer not to lose to the Gamecocks for a fifth straight time. That losing streak, coupled with the fact that it is senior quarterback Tajh Boyd’s final shot at beating his rival, are distinct motivating factors. For the Seminoles, a win against the Gators would get them one step closer to playing for the national title.

Florida, though, is a mere formality.

The Gators were just embarrassed royally at home in a 26-20 loss to Georgia Southern, Florida’s first loss to an FCS program. It was the worst loss in school history, and a new low for coach Will Muschamp, whose job security is hanging by a thread. Florida, which is in the midst of its first losing season since 1979, will face a Florida State team that has outscored its past three opponents 198-20.

The tables have turned for those rivals.

They could turn for the entire ACC this weekend, too.

#CampusConnection: Afternoon Live

September, 28, 2013
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A top-10 SEC showdown between the hedges? Two of the winningest programs of all-time battling in South Bend?

We’ll be watching these games and many more on Saturday afternoon and we’d like you to join in on the conversation. Head on over to Campus Connection at 3:30 ET and follow the action along with eight of our reporters. Post your comments and questions and we’ll include as many of them as possible.

Bama commit Scarbrough plans visits 

September, 16, 2013
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BRADENTON, Fla. -- ESPN 300 athlete Bo Scarbrough (Bradenton, Fla./IMG Academy), despite being committed to Alabama for more than a year, is planning to take all five of his official visits.


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Week 2: Did ACC tilt balance of power?

September, 10, 2013
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Miami Hurricanes Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesThe Miami Hurricanes celebrated an upset win over the Florida Gators on Sept. 7.
For four months, ESPN The Magazine will follow the march to the Vizio BCS National Championship, moment by moment, culminating in our Story of the Season double-issue on Dec. 27. Every Tuesday, Mag senior writer Ryan McGee will pick the previous week's biggest moments and tell you why they'll have the most impact on potential BCS title matchups. If you disagree, send a tweet to @ESPNMag and tell us why your moment matters more, using the hashtag #StoryoftheSeason. Who knows? Your moment (and tweet) might just end up in our issue.


ON PAPER, Week 2 didn't exactly appear overrun with BCS-altering showdowns. But by the time the final whistle had blown in the Pacific time zone, there were indeed dashed postseason hopes scattered among the wreckage.

If Week 1 was the Saturday that the FCS-FBS line officially blurred, then Week 2 was the Saturday that the BCS storylines officially started to take shape. Let’s just call it Power Shift Saturday. And let’s start in South Florida.

The previous five times the Florida Gators and Miami Hurricanes played, the winner finished the season ranked in the top 5 in the AP poll. The programs have been on-again, off-again rivals, part of a longstanding, round-robin tourney (along with Florida State) to be the kings of the Sunshine State.

Sensing that this will be the final regular-season matchup between the two teams for the foreseeable future, the oft-maligned Sun Life Stadium crowd actually showed up. Officials even uncovered extra seats, a practice normally reserved for the Orange Bowl, not Hurricanes fans who don’t typically bother with the drive from Coral Gables.

With the heightened stakes, the blood was up early on both sidelines -- early as in before the game started. During warm-ups, the two teams started edging closer and the jawing became so intense that game officials had to give a polite warning. “There was so much smack talk, I can’t even describe it,” Miami quarterback Stephen Morris said after the game.

To open the game, the Gators' offense, led by Jeff Driskel, marched down the field on an eight-play drive, only to fumble in Miami territory. They marched again on a seven-play drive that bled into the second quarter, only to have Driskel throw a pick inside the Miami 5. And again they marched, only to have an 11-play drive stall after a failed fourth-and-1 at the Miami 16. Finally, a 12-play drive ended on a Trey Burton fumble in the red zone, with less than a minute to play in the half.

Still, the Gators' defense gave the offense a chance to win, eventually locking down what started as a runaway Hurricanes offense and limiting them to less than 2 yards per rush.

With seven minutes remaining in the game, Miami led 14-9, but Florida was driving (again), with a third-and-3 at the Canes’ 16-yard line. Driskel took the snap from the shotgun and immediately fell into the habit that plagued him all day: His eyes betrayed him.

As soon as he had the ball, he was looking right, where two wide receivers were running quick outs. With an onrushing Miami defender in his face, Driskel rocketed a pass toward the sideline and wideout Quinton Dunbar, who was at the Miami 7, just beginning his turn to the quarterback.

“This is where you see Driskel get himself into trouble as a one-level thinker,” an NFL scout told me on Sunday, watching film of the play on my laptop. “It’s a boom-boom play; he’s not supposed to take a lot of time, but damn, he never even considered another option. He already had his mind made up who the ball was going to, come hell or high water.”

The play had a designed safety valve, which was Burton, running toward the sideline at the 12. Instead, Driskel fired it past Burton to Dunbar, who was cut inside by cornerback Tracy Howard, who essentially iced the game with an interception. The Gators did get the ball back, but turned it over (again), this time on a Driskel fumble deep in their own territory. Florida’s final TD made the 21-16 result look closer than the game was.

“[Driskel] does this the whole game,” the scout said, taking my laptop and scrolling back to the second quarter, when Driskel appeared to be first-option only, gunning blindly into nearly quadruple-coverage for an INT. “That play was designed to the running back on the left. If he’s not there, then he’s got a clear out to run. But again, he’d decided where he was going with it before the play even started. You can’t be a real title contender like that. Did you see Tennessee against Western Kentucky? Ball hawks. That team might intercept this kid five times.”

If the Vols do so on Sept. 21 in Gainesville, Florida -- which dropped from No. 12 to No. 18 in the AP poll -- is nearly guaranteed an opening SEC loss. During the Will Muschamp era, the Gators are 19-9. In those 19 wins, they’ve committed 18 turnovers, good for a plus-20 turnover margin. In the nine loses, that margin falls to minus-21.

As for the power shift, The U scored its first win against a top-15 opponent since 2009 and easily its biggest since knocking off No. 3 Virginia Tech in 2005. The Canes, which went from unranked to No. 15 in the poll after the win, reinforced the ACC media’s preseason decision to vote them as the Coastal Division favorites. But more importantly, they reinforced the ACC itself. For the second straight week, the conference knocked off a highly ranked SEC foe. The coach who earned that first power-shifting win was quick to acknowledge the trend.

“How about that ACC?” Clemson’s Dabo Swinney said as he wrapped up his postgame news conference Saturday after trouncing South Carolina State. “Spunky little league.”

Then he threw up Miami’s trademark "U" hand gesture and walked off the stage.

Of course, he doesn’t have to face the Canes during the regular season, unlike Jimbo Fisher and Florida State, who do on Nov. 2.


  • Georgia, the team that Swinney and Clemson beat Aug. 31, last week knocked off the team that the Tigers hope to beat on Nov. 30: Jadeveon Clowney and South Carolina. The Dawgs’ 41-30 win over the then-No. 6 Gamecocks also indicated a significant power shift. UGA snapped a maddening three-game losing streak to its SEC East rival. Yes, Georgia still managed to make the SEC title game the past two years, but the South Carolina losses always dogged its potential BCS title game status. Should Aaron Murray and company return to Atlanta this season, they still will have the Clemson loss hanging over them. But if the Tigers win out (they will certainly be favored in all of their remaining games), then they could potentially meet the Dawgs again in Pasadena. Then again, South Carolina could ruin the party for both if it beats Clemson in Columbia, something it has done in four straight seasons.
  • Michigan’s 41-30 victory over Notre Dame signified a bit of a power shift: The Wolverines managed to beat a ranked opponent, something they did only once in five tries last season. Meanwhile, the Irish, who were ranked No. 14 last week, failed their first test of 2013 after beating an all-star list of schools during their improbable unranked-to-BCS title game run of 2012. Last season, Michigan lost to South Carolina (No. 11), Ohio State (No. 4), Alabama (No. 2) and yes, Notre Dame (No. 11). Now both teams have done something they couldn’t a year ago -- one beat a ranked team, and the other lost a regular-season game.
  • Speaking of power shifts ... was it really just eight years ago that Texas and USC played for the national title at the Rose Bowl? In case you need to be reminded, both suffered surprising upsets Saturday. And if you’re a member of either of those fan bases, safe to say you’re also upset. The Longhorns fired one-time wunderkind defensive coordinator Manny Diaz after just two games, a decision accelerated by BYU’s unthinkable 550-yard rushing performance. As for the Trojans’ fall (at the Coliseum, no less), the closing minutes of the loss to Mike Leach’s Washington State squad were played among "Fire Kiffin!" chants. USC has lost seven of its past nine games; Texas has dropped three of its past five.
Miami Hurricanes, Florida GatorsESPN The Magazine

ESPN 300 OT Sharpe set to trim list 

September, 8, 2013
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David Sharpe (Jacksonville, Fla./Providence), one of the top offensive tackles in the country, took an unofficial visit to Georgia on Saturday. The 6-foot-6, 290-pound tackle prospect said he enjoyed his experience in Athens.


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Boyd plays 'Superman' against UGA

September, 1, 2013
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CLEMSON, S.C. -- About two hours before kickoff on Saturday evening, hordes of Clemson fans lined Centennial Boulevard, shoulder-to-shoulder in the blazing heat, to watch the players and coaches make their celebratory “Tiger Walk” from the busses into Memorial Stadium.

“I can’t wait to see him,” whispered Tyler Englehart, an awestruck freshman, to nobody in particular.

[+] EnlargeTajh Boyd
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesTajh Boyd stood tall against Georgia, accounting for all five of Clemson's touchdowns.
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, wearing a dark suit and a purple bowtie, was one of the last players to stroll down the line, and the crowd seemed to grow louder with every step he took. Boyd called the atmosphere “surreal,” but it paled in comparison to the show he put on in the historic 38-35 win over No. 5 Georgia. Boyd was on, even when his receivers were off. He ran with the strength of a fullback and took hit after hit. He was responsible for all five of his team’s touchdowns -- three passing and two rushing.

“Tajh is our Superman,” running back Roderick McDowell said.

“Tajh is the best football player on this team, in this conference, in the nation,” added defensive end Corey Crawford.

Perhaps the most awestruck fans of Boyd are the ones who practice with him every day.

Clemson’s win over Georgia legitimized the Tigers as a national title contender, and further boosted Boyd’s résumé as a Heisman hopeful. He finished with 312 yards of total offense, a school record for a season opener, and now has 22 wins as a starter -- tied for fourth most in school history. For just the third time in his career, Boyd finished with multiple rushing touchdowns. He also helped deliver one of the biggest wins in school history on the biggest stage.

“His leadership and how he brought us together at the end of the game, we thrived off him,” wide receiver Sammy Watkins said. “With him getting first downs, and him getting the ball out of his hands on the edge, and us blocking, he made us good tonight.”

That’s exactly why Boyd came back, instead of leaving early for the NFL.

He came back to run down The Hill before what was the largest, most raucous home crowd he had ever seen.

He came back to experience the “surreal” moment of walking through a horde of fans in the team’s pregame “Tiger Walk.”

He came back to compete for a national title.

“He’s a baller,” offensive coordinator Chad Morris said. “There’s no question about what Tajh Boyd means to this program, to this university and to college football. To go against the opponents he’s gone against the last two games and two control the games in a manner in which he did, it says a lot about him.”

Neither team’s defense played particularly well early in the game, and Clemson was outgained in total yardage, but Boyd made more clutch plays and was able to stay on his feet while Georgia’s Aaron Murray was sacked four times. This game was billed as featuring two of the best quarterbacks in the country. It did, but Murray had a fumble and an interception, both in the second quarter. His critics will likely continue to point to his 3-11 record against teams that have finished in the Associated Press Top 25.

Meanwhile, Boyd has now led Clemson to back-to-back wins against SEC teams.

“He played like a veteran quarterback is supposed to play,” Morris said. “We had a couple of drops tonight, and they very well could have led to some more scores. He never rattled, he never shoot, and his ability to run the football tonight made us successful.”

Boyd’s 4-yard touchdown run in the first quarter gave Clemson the early 7-0 lead, and his 77-yard pass later in the quarter to Watkins put the Tigers up 14-7. Boyd always seemed to find an answer in what was a thrilling, electric, back-and-forth game that lived up to every bit of the hype. In the third quarter, he found Zac Brooks for a 31-yard touchdown pass, and threw the game winner to Stanton Seckinger in the fourth quarter.

“I think it turned a lot of heads in the college football world,” Boyd said of the win. “It was a very monumental win for the university and program and conference in general. All that good stuff is great, but we have to keep working to keep and keep our eyes on the prize. This is only the opener. We have 11 games left. We have to continue to keep working.”

Clemson fans had to wait to see Boyd in the Tiger Walk, but he didn’t waste any time making his statement against Georgia.
Aaron Murray and Tajh BoydGetty ImagesAaron Murray and Tajh Boyd have had their big-game struggles, but both had huge performances to end the 2012 season.


The game between Clemson and Georgia has so many intriguing storylines to follow. One of the most intriguing, of course, is the quarterback matchup between Tajh Boyd and Aaron Murray.

The two players are longtime friends and have already talked some friendly smack to each other in the offseason. But with Boyd on Twitter lockdown, the good natured back-and-forth between them has stopped.

That, however, will not stop ACC blogger Andrea Adelson and SEC blogger Edward Aschoff from debating which quarterback has the upper hand headed into the game.

AA: With all due respect, Edward, I am trying to figure out what there is to debate here. Murray has not exactly done well in the big games he has played in throughout his career. Georgia coach Mark Richt was asked as much after the SEC championship game loss to Alabama a year ago, growing angry and defensive at the mere implication that Murray comes up small on the big stage. Well, there's a reason Richt was asked. Murray is 3-11 against teams that ended the season ranked in the Top 25; his best win would be against No. 2 Florida last year. But he did nothing to win that game. Murray threw for 150 yards and had three passes intercepted; the Gators gave that one away with six turnovers. Boyd, on the other hand, has won a conference championship, was an AFCA first-team All-American last year and has been selected as the 2013 preseason player of the year in his league. That's a trifecta Murray can't match.

EA: Yes, Murray has had his issues against ranked teams. I'm not going to turn my head and act as if he hasn't struggled when the big boys line up against him. But I'm pretty sure we are talking about taking a quarterback right now, today. And who wouldn't take Murray? He's not as mobile or as physically imposing, but he throws a much more catchable ball than Boyd. He has better technique, and he has put up far better numbers. I know people like to harp on his first-half performance against Florida, but why not talk about what he did after that half? If you won't, I will. After the first half of the Florida game, Murray finished the season throwing 20 touchdowns to just three interceptions. During that time, he threw for 300-plus yards in three games, including his 427-yard, five-touchdown outing against Nebraska in Georgia's 45-31 Outback Bowl win. He was playing his best ball at the end of the season and enters the 2013 season with the SEC passing yards record and touchdown record in sight. As for Boyd, he hasn't been great against ranked teams, either. He went 1-2 against ranked opponents last year and went 2-4 to end 2011, throwing nine interceptions.

AA: Wait, you mean to tell me you would pick Murray over Boyd because he had a few 300-yard games to close the season? None of them came against a defense ranked in the top 30. He had a nice game against Nebraska in the bowl game? Nebraska, which gave up 70 points to Wisconsin in the biggest, most embarrassing conference championship game beatdown last season? I think I could have lined up and thrown for 300 yards against that team. But since you brought up bowl performances, this is why anybody who wants to win picks Boyd. The way he willed Clemson to victory over LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl is the biggest reason the Tigers go into the year with as much hype as they do, and the biggest reason Boyd has played himself into early Heisman consideration.

You were at the game, Edward.

You must remember how Boyd and the Tigers' offense took possession at their own 20 with 1:39 left in the game, down two. You must remember his incredible 26-yard completion to DeAndre Hopkins on fourth-and-16 to help get Clemson into field goal range. You must remember the way Boyd was battered and bruised in that game, but he kept getting up, refusing to lose. Boyd threw for 346 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions and set career highs for attempts and completions against a defense that finished the season ranked No. 8 in the nation. Yes, Boyd has struggled against South Carolina the way Murray has. Both are 0-for-the Gamecocks, a sore point without a doubt. But overall, Boyd does have a winning record against Top 25 teams. He is more mobile and has a higher QBR than Murray, too. Boyd over Murray is an easy choice.

EA: You're right, I was there to watch Clemson's comeback, upset win over LSU. But I distinctly remember LSU handing the other Tigers that victory late. Now, I'm not taking anything away from Boyd. He played a heck of a game, but if LSU didn't get away from running the ball (what in the world were the coaches thinking?) in the fourth quarter, we wouldn’t be talking about Boyd. It's just another SEC win over an ACC team. Murray gets hammered for his past play against ranked teams, but the game that really stands out to me is last year's SEC championship game.

Murray might have played his best game in a Dawgs uniform, but all anyone will remember is Chris Conley's catch to end the game that handed Alabama the win. All they'll remember is the mind-boggling decision by Georgia's coaching staff not to clock the ball on that final drive. There was no excuse for such a mental lapse. But look at what Murray did in the biggest game of his career, against the best team in the country, in what most people around these parts consider to be the real national championship. He threw for 265 yards with a touchdown and an interception, but completed five of his seven pass attempts in that last drive, including his final four, for 76 yards. Remember, this was against Alabama.

This wasn't against Maryland, NC State, UNC or Virginia Tech. This was against the best defense in the country. Murray did everything in his power to win, and there's absolutely no way you blame that loss on him. Look to the sideline for help there. The bottom line is that Murray was hitting his stride at the end of the season, and that will carry over to the fall. He's incredibly efficient and is about to break every major career-passing record in the nation's toughest conference, where he faces the sport's top defenses each week. Both are great, but if I'm taking a quarterback today, I'm taking this version of Aaron Murray.

Clemson atmosphere a hurdle for UGA

August, 28, 2013
8/28/13
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Never mind that No. 5 Georgia must play its first game in nine months against No. 8 Clemson -- marking the first time in program history that the Bulldogs and their opening opponent have both been ranked in the top 10.

The Bulldogs must face that caliber of opponent at Clemson’s Memorial Stadium, home of one of the noisiest and most electric atmospheres in college football, before a national primetime TV audience.

[+] EnlargeClemson fans
Joshua S. Kelly/US PresswirePlaying No. 8 Clemson in the opening game is tough enough for Georgia without factoring in the Tigers' rowdy fans.
After the Tigers rub Howard’s Rock and run down the hill into Death Valley -- which ABC announcer Brent Musburger dubbed “the most exciting 25 seconds in college football” -- the Bulldogs will have to contend with a fired-up, historic rival that is playing its biggest home game in years.

Blocking out all that is occurring on the periphery is an essential element in performing adequately on the field, Bulldogs offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said.

“[You] focus on your job and not get caught up in the surroundings and the hype of [being] on the road or the big game or big environment. It’s tough,” Bobo said. “The beginning of the season is always exciting no matter who you play, and then you add an opponent that has the same talent you do and is capable of beating you any Saturday. You have to do the little things and execute -- and that’s what it comes down to is executing, no matter how excited and how fired up you are.”

Making matters more difficult is that these are completely different teams from the ones that last took the field to complete the 2012 season -- Georgia against Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl and Clemson against LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Sure, watching film of those games is valuable in learning about personnel and tendencies, but the teams’ respective coaching staffs have had an entire offseason to tinker and adjust to new personnel.

“We know what talent they have and what they have coming back. But how are they going to use that talent?” Georgia tight end Arthur Lynch said. “Everyone switches things up.”

That’s where the Bulldogs hope their experience in key spots -- particularly with fifth-year quarterback Aaron Murray -- will come in handy. By now, the eldest Bulldogs have been in nearly every situation imaginable, which should help them adapt even to their potentially intimidating surroundings on Saturday night.

“On defense, you play with a little more emotion and play fast and play hard. On offense, you’ve got to be able to execute and handle those situations and sometimes experience is the only thing that can help you do that,” said Bobo, whose team is 10-2 in season openers since he joined the staff. “In years past, I think we’ve had some experience. I think we’ve had some good quarterback play that’s helped calm the situation, and this year we’ve got that and we’ve got an experienced quarterback, too, that I expect to play well.”
ATHENS, Ga. -- Scour the locker rooms at Georgia and Clemson and it might be difficult to find a player who knows much about their historic rivalry.

“You know me, I don’t know much about Georgia’s history from before I got here,” Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray chuckled in one such response about the longtime rivalry between schools separated by only about 70 miles.

Murray is far from alone in that regard. The 22-year-old Floridian was 13 the last time Georgia and Clemson met, in 2003, and was not even alive when the annual 1980s meetings between the Bulldogs and Tigers often carried national-title implications.

Fans of a certain age might harken back to those days on Saturday, however, when the rivalry resumes -- ending the longest gap between games since the series started in 1897 -- and No. 5 Georgia visits No. 8 Clemson in Death Valley.

[+] EnlargeClemson, Danny Ford
AP Photo/Kathy WillensCoach Danny Ford and Clemson beat Georgia 13-3 in 1981 and went on to win the national championship.
“Georgia was really good every year, so it meant that doggone it, somebody was going to get a lot of publicity and a lot of press, whoever won that football game,” said former Tigers coach Danny Ford, who will be enshrined in Clemson’s Ring of Honor on Saturday. “You could still be a good football team if you lost that game, but it just put a cramp in everything and it was so early in the year -- the first or second game or third game every year -- and you kind of knew what kind of football team [you had].

“It was kind of like a Wednesday where the kids in school call it Hump Day, you know? You’re in the middle of the week, get your classes over with and you’re about halfway to the weekend. That was the same kind of a hump game, where if you get off and win that football game, you’ve got a great chance to have a good year.”

Back then, your season could be more than good if you slipped away with a win. Thanks to a 67-yard punt return touchdown by Scott Woerner and a 98-yard Woerner interception return that set up another score, Georgia edged Clemson 20-16 in 1980 despite failing to register a single first down in the opening half.

“At the end, they’re back down there and Jeff Hipp makes an interception on about the 1-yard line right at the end of the game,” recalled former Georgia coach Vince Dooley, who posted a 15-6-1 record against Clemson in his 25 seasons as the Bulldogs’ coach. “But statistic-wise, they just knocked us all over the place.”

The 10th-ranked Bulldogs went on to win the national title that season after barely surviving the Tigers’ upset bid. And Clemson returned the favor the following year, generating nine turnovers to beat Herschel Walker and No. 4 Georgia 13-3 en route to a national title of its own.

Clemson’s 1981 win marked the only time that Georgia lost in the regular season during Walker’s three seasons on campus.

“They’re the only team that he played more than once in his college career and didn’t score a touchdown against,” said UGA grad Kyle King, whose new book detailing the Georgia-Clemson series history, “Fighting Like Cats and Dogs,” was published, oddly enough, by the Clemson University Digital Press. “So they really were the ones who -- to the extent anyone had Herschel’s number -- they’re the ones who had his number.”

[+] EnlargeVince Dooley
Dale Zanine/US Presswire for ESPN.comIn 25 years as coach at Georgia , Vince Dooley posted a 15-6-1 record against Clemson.
Just how close were the two teams in their respective pursuits of the national title? Georgia scored exactly 316 points during the 1980 regular season before beating Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl to claim its first national title since 1942. The following year, Clemson matched that scoring total to the number, notching the very same 316 points in the regular season before beating Nebraska in the Orange Bowl to claim the school’s first national championship.

The series continued to produce memorable outcomes on an annual basis throughout the 1980s. Take 1982, for example, when No. 7 Georgia hosted No. 11 Clemson in the first night game in decades at Sanford Stadium. Much like Saturday’s game at Clemson, the 1982 game aired before a prime-time national TV audience on ABC -- that year on Labor Day evening.

Bulldogs defenders picked off four passes by Clemson quarterback and Athens native Homer Jordan en route to a 13-7 win and another undefeated regular season. Once again, the Georgia-Clemson winner played in the game that would determine the national champion, although the Bulldogs lost this time, 27-23 to Penn State in the Sugar Bowl.

Nonetheless, those first three games set the standard for one of the nastiest rivalries of the 1980s -- one where defense, big special-teams plays and general hard-nosed aggression became trademarks.

“I remember it was always a tough game for Georgia. It was a tough game, period,” said Georgia running backs coach Bryan McClendon, who appeared in the series’ last two games, in 2002 and 2003, and whose father Willie preceded him as a Georgia player and coach. “It was always one of the biggest games out there in the country and it’s a lot like this year, to be honest with you. You never knew who was going to come out on top. Both teams always had high expectations going into each year, let alone that game. It was always a hard-fought war out there on the field.”

There was the 1984 game where Georgia beat No. 2 Clemson 26-23 on a 60-yard Kevin Butler field goal -- a play that produced what King called Bulldogs announcer Larry Munson’s most memorable call from a home game, when he estimated that Butler would “try to kick one 100,000 miles” and then proclaimed that “the stadium is worse than bonkers” once the kick cleared the uprights.

Clemson enjoyed its own kicking-game heroics in 1986 and 1987, when David Treadwell booted game-winning field goals at the end of the Tigers’ respective 31-28 and 21-20 victories.

“We were so evenly matched, and so many came down to a field goal or a touchdown, and we were so evenly matched that all of them kind of run together in my thoughts,” Ford recalled. “They’d win one and we’d win one.”

That proved true throughout Ford’s 11-year tenure at Clemson. A rivalry that Georgia once dominated -- the Bulldogs are 41-17-4 all-time against the Tigers and went 11-1-1 against Frank Howard, the winningest coach in Clemson history -- was extremely even in the 1980s.

Ford went 4-4-1 against Georgia while at Clemson. The scoring differential during that period? Georgia 153, Clemson 152.

“It was more about respectability for us because Georgia had the upper hand for so long back when Coach Howard [was here],” Ford said. “I tell the story all the time that Coach Howard would have to play Georgia and Georgia Tech, who was in the SEC back then, Alabama and Auburn and lose four games to have enough money to make his budget and then win the ACC conference. But back then he had to do that and he couldn’t hardly ever get them to come play at our place. It was just a thing of respectability I think, more so for us in the '80s."

Respectability is no longer a problem for either of the programs who will renew their longtime rivalry on Saturday in Death Valley. Georgia’s Mark Richt led his team within an eyelash of playing for the BCS title last year, and the Bulldogs enter Saturday’s game with their highest preseason ranking since opening the 2008 campaign in the No. 1 spot. Clemson’s Dabo Swinney has led the Tigers to a 21-6 record over the last two seasons and, blessed with a Heisman Trophy contender in quarterback Tajh Boyd, should boast one of the nation’s most explosive offenses.

The programs no longer resemble the Ford- and Dooley-era squads that relied on defense and the kicking game to win low-scoring games, but considering the standing the Georgia-Clemson game once held in the national championship race, it seems fitting that Saturday’s reunion occupies a marquee spot in college football’s opening weekend.

“I grew up with this game being played pretty much every year, and it was at a time that Georgia beat Florida every year, and Georgia beat Georgia Tech every year, so Clemson and Auburn were really the two games that you went into the year thinking, ‘Boy, I hope we can get out of that one with a W,’ ” King said. “I didn’t want to lose that, and that was really what ultimately inspired me to go back and write this book.

“We’re going into a season where it looks like you have two top-10 teams, two frontrunners in their conferences, two top-drawer quarterbacks going up against one another,” he added. “I think it’s important to remind fans that this isn’t a new thing. We butted heads with these guys in big games before, and hopefully we’ll get the chance to keep doing it in the future.”

ESPN.com's Preseason All-America team

August, 16, 2013
8/16/13
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The All-American wealth has spread across the land. The Pac-12 leads the conferences with seven, one more than the SEC. Dual-threat QB Marcus Mariota and RB Lache Seastrunk both originally signed with Oregon. Now that Seastrunk plays for Baylor, he and Mariota no longer have to share a backfield. Seastrunk and G Cyril Richardson make the Bears the only team with two on offense. Richardson is surely the first All-American named Cyril, but Lache is not the first body of water to make it. He joins 1939 Heisman winner Nile Kinnick.

Alabama has won three of the past four BCS titles with defense and placed LB C.J. Mosley and S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix on this team. Alabama and Oregon lead with three players apiece on the list. That's one more than the Big Ten and two more than the ACC and Conference USA. -- Ivan Maisel

View ESPN.com's 2013 Preseason All-America team here.

Brock Huard's top 10 QBs in college football

August, 15, 2013
8/15/13
11:30
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Tajh Boyd, AJ McCarron and Marcus MariotaGetty ImagesTajh Boyd, AJ McCarron and Marcus Mariota all rank near the top of Brock Huard's top 10.

The 2013 NFL draft featured a weaker-than-usual class of quarterbacks, to be sure, but there was another reason why EJ Manuel was the only QB taken in the first round: NFL teams knew that the 2014 class of passers is loaded with intriguing talent that comes in a variety of sizes, skill sets and experience levels.

Which brings us to the preseason edition of ESPN Insider Brock Huard's QB rankings. Unlike his Insider colleagues Todd McShay and Mel Kiper, who will be projecting these signal-callers (and all the 2014 draft-eligible prospects) all season long based on their NFL potential, and unlike analysts who are ranking them based on their collegiate performance, Huard is setting out to do a little of both.

View Huard's complete rankings here. Insider

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