National title hopes are on the line for both No. 5 Georgia and No. 8 Clemson as the Southern rivals begin their seasons on Saturday night at Memorial Stadium.
The Bulldogs have won five straight over the Tigers, including a 41-17-4 all-time mark, but Saturday’s showdown is the first time both will meet as top 10 teams.
The victor may come down to two of most elite passers in the country in Georgia’s Aaron Murray and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd. Both seniors and Heisman favorites, Murray tossed for 3,893 yards and 36 touchdowns while guiding Georgia to a second-straight SEC East title last season. Boyd completed 67.2 percent of his passes for 3,896 yards and 36 touchdowns for an 11-2 record and razor-thin 25-24 victory over LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Boyd will be without his top returning rusher and receiver with Andre Ellington and DeAndre Hopkins jumping to the NFL. Senior running back Roderick McDowell will have the heaviest workload of his collegiate career after 83 carries and 450 yards and five touchdowns last season, and junior receiver Sammy Watkins will try to stay healthy and build off his 708 yards and three scores.
The Bulldogs have little to worry about on the ground with leading rusher Todd Gurley returning after a 1,385 yard and 17 touchdown freshman year.
Losing their top three tacklers would be a concern for Georgia, but sophomore outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins looks to take over the mantle as the team’s best defender. Jenkins recorded 31 total tackles and five sacks last season.
Linebacker Jonathan Willard returns for Clemson, after a 95 tackle and three sack 2012. However, the Tigers secondary did lose the six interceptions from safeties Rashard Hall and Jonathan Meeks, putting more pressure on sophomore Travis Blanks and junior Robert Smith to contain Murray.
The game begins at 8 p.m. ET.
Betting Odds: Georgia is favored by 1 point.
Over/Under: 72 points.
Prediction: Georgia 38, Clemson 30