8:00 PM EST, ACC Network – Line: Clemson 36.5, Over/Under: 60.5
College Football is back ladies and gentlemen, and there’s no better way to get things started than with the reigning National Champions, the Clemson Tigers, who begin their reign against new-look Georgia Tech, from Memorial Stadium in Clemson, South Carolina. We’ll get to the champs shortly, but for now, let’s focus on Georgia Tech (7-6 in 2018), who are beginning a new era under new Head Coach, Geoff Collins, who will be replacing he venerable Paul Johnson, was stepped down from his post following eleven year with the program. It was a generally successful period for the Yellow Jackets, who under the former Navy skipper went 83-60 (.580), including nine Bowls, headlined by a pair of 11-Win Seasons in 2009 and 2014. However, things eventually began to grow stale, for the club managed to go just 24-25 (.489) from 2015 to 2019, struggling to become simply Bowl Eligible in recent years. And it’s with that said, Johnson effectively resigned, opening the door for the program to hire Collins, who had spent the previous two years at Temple, where in his first foray with the Owls, went 7-6 and won the 2017 Gasparilla Bowl, and in his second year, rallied the program to an 8-4 finish record following a poor 0-2 start, including 7-1 in conference play. Over the course of his time there, Collins passed Steve Addazio as their winningest coach through the first two years of a tenure. The native of Conyers, Georgia served as a Graduate Assistant under George O’Leary from 1999 to 2001, and has expressed that coming to Georgia Tech feels very much like “coming home”. He’ll have plenty of work to do in renovating a roster that had long been geared to operate within Johnson’s antiquated Triple-Option attack, though he should eventually reap the rewards of recruiting out of the fertile Georgia region. To give you an idea as to what it’s going to take for this guy to modernize the Offense, there were a staggering total of thirteen Tailbacks on Scholarship, which is over twice the amount of most teams in the country, with no Tight Ends and Slot Receivers to speak of. As a result, Collins has had to make good use of the NCAA’s newly-minted Transfer Portal, adding Tyler Davis, a Senior Tight End coming over from Connecticut, Jared Southers, an Offensive Lineman arriving from Vanderbilt, and most notably Antonneous Clayton, a Defensive End from Florida, who was the Tenth Overall Prospect back in the 2016 Recruiting Class. Furthermore, he and the Yellow Jackets received a boost when the NCAA granted Quarterback, Lucas Johnson, a sixth year of eligibility, with the Senior expected to start tonight against the Tigers. Johnson redshirted in 2016, and missed all of 2018 due to foot injury. He suited up for nine games and operated as a Holder on Special Teams in 2017, but never threw a pass. Sophomore Tailback, Jordan Mason (108 CAR, 659 YDS, 6.1 Y/C, 7 TD) returns as their leading rusher, racking up 659 Yards and Seven Touchdowns on 108 Carries, while Backup Quarterback, Tobias Oliver (152, 876 YDS, 5.8 Y/C, 12 TD), rushed for 876 Yards and a team-high Twelve Touchdowns. Look for the Redshirt Junior to feature more in the Backfield within Collins’ Offense, which will no doubt aim to improve on an Offense that only averaged 9.7 Passing Attempts per Game in 2018.
Meanwhile, it’s Clemson’s (15-0 in 2018) world and the rest of us are simply living in it. Fresh off of winning their second National Championship in three years, the Tigers are the overwhelming favorite to make it three out of four, coming into the season as No. One Overall in the AP Poll for the first time in the history of the program. It’s really rather remarkable as to what Dabo Swinney has managed to do in his eleven years at the school, particularly when you consider the fact that he was never intended to become the Head Coach in the first place following a stint as the Interim back in 2008. All he’s done since then is go 116-30 (.795), including four consecutive trips to the College Football Playoff, steadily building the program into powerhouse thanks to some very inspiring recruiting on behalf of he and his Coaching Staff. When we last saw the Tigers, they were busy hammering reigning National Champion, Alabama, in 44-16 drubbing that may have signified a changing of the guard, so to speak; with the affair still in question early on in the Second Quarter (Alabama took a 16-14 lead in the opening moments of the stanza), Clemson erupted 17-0 before Halftime, scoring thirty unanswered points the rest of the way. While the Tide will no doubt remain a force in the sport, it’s undeniable the impact that that particular contest left on the national consciousness, which has been reflected in their place in the Poll. Of course, a major reason as to why so many people are backing Clemson to repeat is the fact that they have so many key figures returning, particularly on the offensive side of things. Junior Tailback, Travis Etienne (204 CAR, 1,658 YDS, 8.1 Y/C, 24 TD), returns following a stellar Sophomore campaign in which he rushed for 1,658 Yards and Twenty-Four Touchdowns, while their top-three leading Receivers are also set for another turn in orange; Justyn Ross (46 REC, 1,000 YDS, 21.7 Y/R, 9 TD), Amari Rodgers (55 REC, 575 YDS, 10.5 Y/R, 4 TD), and Tee Higgins (59 REC, 936 YDS, 15.9 Y/R, 12 TD) combined for Twenty-Five Touchdowns, though Rodgers isn’t expected to return to the field until late September as he continues to rehab from a previously torn ACL. And then there is Trevor Lawrence (65.2%, 3,280 YDS, 8.3 Y/A, 30 TD, 4 INT), who as a True Freshman, made waves last season leading the Tigers to National Championship glory. The fact that the towering, Signal-Caller has three more years of eligibility left must be a frightening thought for the rest of the Atlantic Coast Conference, who will have to contend with him for the foreseeable future. Already a Preseason all-American, Lawrence figures to be the front-runner for the Heisman as well, and who could blame the voters after his performance against the Crimson Tide in the National Championship Game? Lawrence went 20-of-32 for 347 Yards and Three Touchdowns with Zero Interceptions against the Twelfth-Ranked Defense in the country, deftly carving them up with a surgeon-like precision. With plenty of time left in his stay at Clemson, it stands to reason that this kid is far from a finished product, which will no doubt keep NFL Scouts salivating over the following two years.