College football kicks off Week 1 of the regular season with one clear marquee Game of the Week as the Georgia Bulldogs head to Clemson to face the Tigers in a big non-conference matchup that features at least four legitimate Heisman Trophy contenders and two high-profile offenses. The experienced triumvirate of senior quarterback Tajh Boyd, junior wide receiver Sammy Watkins and offensive coordinator/mastermind Chad Morris, coupled with a top ten home field advantage (the Tigers moved up one spot from last year's 11th placed ranking) should help Clemson put up points almost at will against an athletic, yet inexperienced Georgia Bulldogs defense (just three returning starters from 2012). Unfortunately for the home team, Georgia has just as much offensive talent at the skill positions, appears to have a clear edge in the trenches and is facing a far more exploitable secondary, which should be enough to narrowly edge Clemson and get a well-fought victory before heading back home to host South Carolina next week.
In 2012, Clemson finished the season 11-2 against the nation's 61st ranked schedule. This included a dramatic 25-24 Chick-fil-A Bowl victory over LSU to conclude the year. Though Clemson actually returns four of five starting offensive linemen, this has traditionally been an area of weakness for the team, especially when facing physical opponents like Florida State within the ACC and teams from the SEC like South Carolina (four straight losses to the Gamecocks by double-digits) and LSU, who did not win the bowl game over Clemson, yet held Clemson to 17 points below its scoring average for the season. Clemson's starting offensive line averages 6'4", 299 lbs while Georgia's projected starting defensive line averages 6'4", 305 lbs (and for comparison it's offensive line, which actually returns all five offensive starters averages 6'4", 309 lbs). That may not seem like a massive difference, but it has materialized into a tangible one in games Clemson has played against bigger teams.
Furthermore, just one starter returns in the secondary for a Clemson team that already struggled mightily giving up big plays in the passing game. In 2012, the Tigers ranked 68th in the country allowing 7.3 yards-per-attempt in the passing game despite playing an average FBS schedule. That's not going to get it done against a Bulldogs squad with an elite senior starting quarterback, Aaron Murray, and playmakers at every position like the "Gurshall" tandem of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall at running back, two standout receivers who barely had a chance to play the position last year in Michael Bennette and Malcolm Mitchell and a tight end in Arthur Lync who has All-American potential.
Overall, Clemson ranks 19th in our initial College Football Power Rankings, which is second in the ACC (behind Florida State at #12) and would be SEVENTH in the SEC. The Tigers rank as having a top ten overall offense and a top ten pass efficiency offense, yet rank outside the top 25 nationally in our run offense, run defense and pass defense efficiency rankings. That should still be good enough to make Clemson a favorite in nine of 12 games on the slate, but this is not one of them. Georgia ranks fourth overall in our Power Rankings, has the top overall pass efficiency offense and is one of just three teams (with Alabama and Texas) that ranks in the top ten in both passing and rushing efficiency. There are concerns with UGA's defense as well, but the team is similar in overall abilities and rankings to Clemson and is strongest in the back seven right now, which is very important when taking on Clemson's pass heavy attack. Both offenses should win over the defenses, but Georgia wins more matchups than Clemson and should win this game.
Through 50,000 simulations of Saturday's 8:00 PM ET featured game on ABC, Georgia wins at Clemson 55.1 percent of the time and by an average score of 40.1-33.9. As 1.5 point favorites that win by more than a field goal, the Bulldogs cover the spread 53.8 percent of the time. According to our Play Value Calculator recommendations, this would warrant a $15 play from a normal $50 player. The 74 projected points currently only covers the current 72 point posted total 51.3 percent of the time, which is not confident enough to cover the general -110 vig (52.4 percent accuracy is necessary to be profitable at -110 odds).