No. 8 Clemson hoping to live up to preseason hype

Clemson University ended the 2012 season with a landmark victory against Southeastern Conference power LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Now the No. 8-ranked Tigers hope to start the 2013 season taking down another SEC heavyweight when they play host to No. 5 Georgia in the season opener for both teams on Saturday.

There will be no shortage of hype for just the second matchup of Top 10 teams in the history of Clemson’s Memorial Stadium – ESPN’s “College GameDay” will be on hand to pump up a sold-out crowd of 80,000-plus and a national television audience.

“Openers are always tough, regardless of the opponent, because of the unknown,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “But they’re even tougher when you open up with a team like Georgia.”

It will be the first meeting between the teams since 2003, marking at least a two-year resurrection of a popular series that has produced many close and memorable games, particularly in the 11-game span from 1977 to 1988. Each team won five times and there was one tie during that stretch, with the games decided by an average of one point.

Saturday night’s game shapes up as a potential shootout with two proven, high-scoring offenses directed by Heisman Trophy candidate quarterbacks facing defenses rife with question marks.

Whatever unfolds, plenty of excitement should be in the offing.

“Turn it up, have fun, just bring it,” Clemson running back Roderick “Hot Rod” McDowell said. “The environment is going to be unbelievable and I know we’ll feed off of it. This is what you play for, really. Both of us are ranked, so this is the best way to start your season off.”

A victory could immediately boost Clemson into national title talk, but Swinney also made it clear that a defeat wouldn’t bring a premature end to the Tigers’ season.

“It’d be great to win the game, but we’re really just going to check off the first goal, which is to win the opener,” Swinney said. “We’ve got 12 games on our schedule and this happens to be first. It’s not a win-all, end-all type deal. The winner of this game has a good starting spot. The loser may drop back a little bit, but is not out of the race. It’s a long race.”

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