The season opener is about a month away, so maybe it’s time to get the ball rolling, discussion-wise. Thought it might be fun to start a conversation by looking at Phil Steele’s rankings of each team’s units and seeing how they stack up against each other. Steele has Georgia ranked ninth and Clemson fifteenth in his preseason top 40, but has them spaced farther apart in the one power poll he publishes. In that, Georgia’s sixth and Clemson’s 20th.
Here’s how he breaks down the respective units (he lists the top 45 nationally at each position):
- Quarterback. He’s got Clemson fourth and Georgia sixth. Boyd’s got gaudier numbers than Murray and Clemson’s backup quarterback has more experience than any of Georgia’s do. Still, those rankings are close enough to be considered a toss-up.
- Running back. Monster gap here: Georgia is first and Clemson doesn’t even rank in his top 45. Boyd is the Tigers’ leading returning rusher.
- Receiver. Another close one, with Georgia fifth and Clemson seventh. Both teams lost one of their top receivers, but still return a lot of depth at the wideout position. Watkins will be the scariest guy on the field that night. Georgia has more productive tight ends, though.
- Offensive line. Steele projects a pretty good-sized difference here. Georgia has his third-best unit and Clemson only ranks 28th. Both teams bring back experience, but Georgia brings back more.
- Defensive line. The shoe is on the other foot here, with Clemson at #15 and Georgia at #42. The Tigers did lose a big, if uneven, talent in Goodman, but still bring back seven of their top eight from last season. The Dawgs… don’t.
- Linebacker. Back to the toss-up – Georgia is 30th and Clemson is 32nd. Clemson actually brings back more experienced players than Georgia does, so take that for what it’s worth.
- Defensive back. Close, but not impressive: Clemson’s at #39 and Georgia is 44th. And that doesn’t take into account JHC’s suspension.
- Special teams. Neither team shows up in his top 45, which in Georgia’s case is a little hard to follow, as he describes them as finishing thirtieth in his 2012 rankings and expects improvement this season. On the other hand, Clemson’s place kicker has been more consistent than Morgan, who, yeah, won’t play opening night. Call this the big wild card of the game.
I see two talented offenses, except that Georgia has a more balanced running threat (Clemson does have a couple of freshmen backs from whom it’s hoping for big things). That’s probably not such good news for the less highly ranked defenses. Subject to our old friend turnover margin, I’m seeing Gurley and Marshall as difference makers, but I’m a little concerned about who wins the special teams part of the night. What do y’all see?