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Georgia at Clemson
Brian Edwards has been the best college football handicapper on the past two years in the first quarter of the season. His documented records (47-21, 69%) prove that fact and he’s already locked and loaded for Week 1 in 2013. Click to win!

Matchup: Georgia Bulldogs at Clemson Tigers
Venue: Clemson Memorial Stadium, Clemson, South Carolina (grass)
Date: Saturday, August 31, 2013
Time/TV: 8:00 p.m. ET - ABC
Line: Georgia -1.5, Over/Under 71
Last Meeting: 2003, Georgia 30 at Clemson 0

Georgia and Clemson are set to renew their rivalry in a crucial Week 1 contest Saturday night at Death Valley. With both schools entertaining national-title hopes, the stakes couldn’t be much higher for a season opener.

As of Thursday morning, most betting shops had UGA installed as a 1.5-point favorite with a total of 71. The Bulldogs are -125 on the money line, while gamblers can back the Tigers for a +105 return (risk $100 to win $105).

Georgia returns nine starters on offense but only three on defense from last season’s team that went 12-2 straight up and 8-6 against the spread. The Bulldogs bounced back from their crushing SEC Championship Game loss to Alabama by beating Nebraska 45-31 as an 8.5-point favorite at the Capital One Bowl.

Nevertheless, the UGA faithful can’t help but wonder about what could’ve been. Trailing the Crimson Tide by four in the final minute, Aaron Murray had his team on the move but had no timeouts remaining.

When he completed a pass to the nine yard line with 15 seconds remaining, the clock stopped for the officials to move the chains. At this point, it was a no-brainer for Murray to spike the ball to give his team three shots at the end zone.

Instead, he looked to the sidelines and was given incomprehensible instructions to run a play. The outcome was predictable. Murray’s pass was deflected at the line of scrimmage and caught by UGA’s Chris Conley at the five. The clock ran out and a golden opportunity to get to the BCS Championship Game was lost.

Murray enjoyed a stellar junior campaign, throwing for 3,893 yards with a 36/10 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He had great support from a pair of freshmen running backs, Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall.

Gurley rushed for 1,385 yards and 17 TDs while averaging 6.2 yards per carry. Many publications have him listed as a preseason All-American. Marshall is no slouch, either. He produced 759 rushing yards and eight TDs while averaging 6.5 YPC.

Murray lost his leading receiver in Tavarres King, but Michael Bennett is back after tearing his ACL in early October of last season. Bennett had made 24 receptions for 345 yards and four TDs before going down in the fifth game.

Arthur Lynch might be the SEC’s best tight end. He had 24 catches for 431 yards and three TDs in 2012. Malcolm Mitchell also returns after hauling in 40 receptions for 572 yards and four TDs.

While the UGA offense, a unit that averaged 37.8 PPG last year, is absolutely loaded, the defense lost a ton of talent. The top four tacklers, including first-round picks Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree, are gone. Plus, starting safety Josh Harvey-Clemons is suspended against Clemson.

Clemson finished 2012 with an 11-2 SU record and a 9-4 ATS mark. The Tigers capped the season with a 25-24 comeback victory over LSU at the Chick-Fil-A Bowl in Atlanta.

Trailing 24-13 in the fourth quarter, Chandler Catanzaro buried a 26-yard field goal to make it a one-possession game with 9:26 remaining. With 2:47 remaining, DeAndre Hopkins scored a on a 12-yard TD pass from Tajh Boyd, but the two-point conversion failed.

At this point, Clemson’s main enemy was the clock but it had all three timeouts remaining. Therefore, LSU’s Les Miles went into his clock-management handbook and pulled out this plan – throw the ball three consecutive times to stop the clock following each incompletion and, therefore, allow Clemson to keep all of its timeouts.

After forcing the three and out, Clemson marched down the field to set up Catanzaro for his walk-off FG from 37 yards out. Dabo Swinney’s squad won outright as a six-point underdog.

Clemson has won nine games or more in three of Swinney’s four (full) seasons. The Tigers have posted double-digit win totals in back-to-back campaigns. They won the ACC two years ago and are now hoping to bag an even bigger championship, which would be their first since former head coach Danny Ford pulled the trick in 1981.

Clemson returns six starters on both offense and defense. Most important, the Tigers bring back their senior QB. Boyd is the school’s second all-time leading passer and is poised to surpass Charlie Whitehurst in October. In 2012, Boyd completed 67.2 percent of his throws for 3,896 yards with a 36/13 TD-INT ratio. He also had 514 rushing yards and 10 TDs.

As a true freshman in 2011, Sammy Watkins was probably the nation’s best playmaker. However, a suspension and a nagging ankle injury created all sorts of problems for Watkins in 2012. He had 57 catches for 708 yards and three TDs, but those were miniscule numbers compared to the talent level of this player. Watkins is healthy now and poised for a bounce-back year.

Clemson’s defense made strides last season in coordinator Brent Venables’ first year at the school. The Tigers went from allowing 29.3 PPG in 2011 to surrendering just 24.8 PPG. One would think this unit would continue to improve under the direction of Venables, who previously spent 12 years on Bob Stoops’s staff at Oklahoma.

During Swinney’s tenure, the Tigers own a 34-26 spread record. They have been home underdogs just three times, going 0-3 ATS.

The Bulldogs are 7-3 ATS in 10 road ‘chalk’ situations since 2009.

ABC will provide television coverage from Death Valley at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

-- Since 1998, Va. Tech has only been a double-digit underdog five times. The Hokies, who are catching 20 points vs. Alabama on Saturday, are 4-1 ATS in those five spots.

-- ULM head coach Todd Berry dismissed starting WR Colby Harper from the team this past weekend. Before sustaining a season-ending injury in Week 4 last year, Harper had 29 catches for 303 yards and two TDs. The Warhawks are 22-point underdogs Saturday at Oklahoma.

-- Speaking of the Sooners, they will be without two defensive starters due to suspensions. Junior DE Chuka Ndulue and junior CB Cortez Johnson will both sit out vs. ULM. Ndulue had 45 tackles, five sacks and four QB hurries in 2012.

-- BYU starting CB Jordan Johnson is out for the season with a season-ending knee injury. Johnson had 48 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 15 passes broken up and one interception in 2012. The Cougars, who open Saturday at Virginia, had been favored by three of 3.5 points at most books for the last several weeks. However, the line moved to just one on Monday. When BYU last ventured into ACC country last season, it spanked Ga. Tech by a 41-17 count on The Flats.

-- Florida will be without four starters for its season opener vs. Toledo. The Gators won’t have OG Jon Halapio, OT Chaz Green, RB Matt Jones and LB Antonio Morrison. Halapio probably won’t be back until late September. Green is out for the season with a torn labrum, while Jones will likely return in Week 2 at Miami. Morrison will also be back for the Hurricanes after his two-game suspension was reduced Monday by Will Muschamp.

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