Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit might think they’re calling a ping-pong match when they begin the college football season with ABC’s first Saturday night game on Aug. 31.
They look at the opponents — Georgia, the No. 5 team in the USA Today coaches poll, and Clemson, the No. 8 team — with their high-powered offenses and top-flight quarterbacks, and they know it’s likely to be a shootout.
The matchup between two of the best teams in the SEC and ACC — it kicks off at 8 p.m. at Clemson’s Death Valley — figures to light up TV screens across the country. Musburger said the Tigers, who went 11-2 last season with losses to Florida State and South Carolina before they bounced back with a bowl win over LSU, still must prove they’re for real.
“I don’t think we’re going to find out how good they are until they go toe-to-toe with Georgia,” Musburger said.
But Herbstreit, who will help anchor ESPN’s College GameDay on the Clemson campus, said he likes the Clemson offense with quarterback Tajh Boyd and wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
“You look at them on paper, and it’s hard not to love their offense,” Herbstreit said. “Tajh Boyd almost seems to be an extension of (offensive coordinator) Chad Morris with his familiarity in the system. It’s a very difficult system to prepare for, so having a veteran quarterback like Tajh is huge. They have a ton of talent around him, and I think they’re going to score a lot of points.”
Herbstreit said similar things about a Georgia offense led by quarterback Aaron Murray and tailback Todd Gurley.
“The thing about Georgia that I’m looking forward to in that game is, much like Tajh Boyd, you’ve got Aaron Murray, who will be a four-year starter in the SEC,” he said. “Brent and I had Georgia on the road early last year, and they struggled, of course, in Columbia against Jadeveon Clowney and the Gamecocks.”
But he said he doesn’t expect a collapse similar to the 35-7 loss to USC a year ago.
“I think there’s a real sense of focus with this team. I was down in Athens a week ago, and it looks like a veteran team, especially on the offensive side of the ball,” Herbstreit said. “We all remember how close they were in Atlanta in the SEC championship game, to not just winning the SEC but getting a berth in the national championship. I think that’s really driven them in this offseason.”
Musburger pointed out the challenge that awaits the Bulldogs one week after the Clemson game — a meeting with the Gamecocks in the SEC opener for both teams.
“I only see one disadvantage for Georgia, excluding the home-field advantage for Clemson, and that’s the fact the Bulldogs are looking up and seeing South Carolina right down the road in the conference opener for them. That could be a big distraction for players and coaches alike,” Musburger said.
Georgia, which finished 12-2 last season, also must face No. 13 LSU before September ends.
“They’re going to find out where they stand in the first four weeks of their season,” Herbstreit said.
Clemson and Georgia haven’t playedeach other in 10 years. Ultimately, the key to winning is likely to come on defense, an area where both teams have not always excelled. Last season, the Bulldogs allowed 19.6 points per game, and they must replace many of those starters. The Tigers allowed 24.8 points per game.
“The (Clemson) defense in the second year now with (coordinator) Brent Venables will help them be a little further along. And they’re going to need to be further along, becauseof Murray and a pretty explosive offense,” Herbstreit said.
“If there’s one concern I would have if I were a Georgia Bulldog, it would be breaking in a lot of new faces in the secondary against a very, very confusing and difficult scheme to prepare for against a veteran quarterback and a lot of big playmakers.”