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Alabama vs. Clemson

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Editor's note: Brian Edwards finished the 2007 college football season with a 70-60 record (54%), closing strong with a 19-8 run that netted "dime players" $10,300 of profit. Edwards has started the '08 campaign with easy winners on South Carolina and Rice. Click to win again with Brian's guaranteed winner for 'Bama-Clemson tonight!

For a season opener, it doesn’t get much better than what we’ll get Saturday night at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. We have an ACC-SEC matchup on a neutral field in what promises to be a raucous environment.

We have Alabama entering the second season of the Nick Saban Era, matched up against a Clemson team that’s undoubtedly the most talented of Tommy Bowden’s 10-year tenure.

We have the debut of wide receiver Julio Jones, ‘Bama’s most decorated recruit of the last decade. We also have the debut of defensive end Da’Quan Bowers, who might be Clemson’s best recruiting catch ever.

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This showdown falls in the prime-time slot, meaning fans have all day to enjoy bets, ballgames and most importantly – Budweisers. Even better, beer will be served in the stadium during the first half to make an already hostile crowd even more electric.

Need more? No problem.

This game will be the tone-setter for both teams’ respective seasons. The winner will most likely cruise to a 4-0 start and be in the top 10 come late September.

For the loser, there’s a check in the ‘L’ column before the end of August. If that loser is Alabama, Saban’s record would fall to a mediocre 7-7 since he bolted South Florida for the fattest contract a college football coach has ever signed.

If Clemson goes down, you know Bowden will come under heavy scrutiny just like he seemingly does each and every year. He has endured the ‘can’t-win-the-big-one’ stigma for years, and a loss to the Tide would only strengthen that notion.

The Tigers finished 9-4 straight up and 6-6 against the spread in 2007. They return eight starters apiece on both offense and defense.

Clemson has one of the nation’s best set of skill players. Senior QB Cullen Harper completed 65.1 percent of his passes for 2,991 yards last year. He had an outstanding 27/6 touchdown-interception ratio.

Harper’s two favorite targets – seniors Aaron Kelly and Tyler Grisham – are both back. Kelly garnered first-team All-ACC honors after hauling in 88 receptions for 1,081 yards and 11 TDs in ’07. Grisham had 66 catches for 653 yards and four TDs.

Clemson’s aerial attack is strong, but the running game is even more lethal. The Tigers have the country’s best 1-2 punch of running backs in James Davis and C.J. Spiller, who are also known as ‘Thunder and Lightning.’

Davis bypassed the NFL Draft to return for his senior year. He is already the school’s second all-time leading rusher with 3,130 yards. Davis needs 837 more rushing yards to overtake Raymond Priester as the program’s all-time leader.

Davis is the ‘Thunder’ in the ground game and Spiller provides the ‘Lightning.’ While Davis is more of a between-the-tackles bruiser, Spiller can take it to the house on any given touch. The junior RB averaged 5.3 yards per carry in ’07.

Alabama (7-6 SU, 3-8-1 ATS) had eventual national-champ LSU on the ropes last year, only to allow a seven-point lead to get away at crunch time. That led to a four-game losing streak to close the regular season.

The Crimson Tide bounced back with a 30-24 win over Colorado at the Independence Bowl to stop the bleeding. A month later, they got a huge boost when Saban brought in the country’s No. 1 recruiting class.

Jones, who has a Randy-Moss-like frame, was the highlight of the class. He arrives at the perfect time since ‘Bama lost its three top wideouts – D.J. Hall, Keith Brown and Matt Caddell.

Jones has been turning heads since arriving in Tuscaloosa, making plays galore in Alabama’s pre-season scrimmages. Not only will he start, but he will be John Parker Wilson’s favorite target from the get-go.

Speaking of Wilson, I’ve been saying all summer that I think he’s poised to have a stellar senior year. He has had his ups (41-17 win vs. Tennessee) and downs (17-12 loss at Mississippi St.) since replacing Brodie Croyle, but it’s understandably difficult for ‘Bama fans to look beyond his 13-13 record in 26 starts.

That’s mediocre by most standards, especially those set at Alabama. Therefore, Wilson has a lot to prove to his own fan base. I say it happens in 2008.

Before Las Vegas Sports Consultants released its opening lines, I thought we would see Clemson as a three-point favorite. But LVSC sent the number out at five. Since then, we’ve a seen a bunch of books go up to 5 ½, while others have gone down to 4 ½ this week. As of Saturday morning, most spots had Clemson favored by five.

The total opened at 46 this week. After an initial surge into the 47-48 range, most spots have settled at 46 or 46 ½. ‘Bama is plus 170 on the money line (risk $100 to win $170).

Since Dennis Franchione left Alabama, this team has struggled mightily for our purposes. In fact, the Tide has an abysmal 23-35-3 spread record since 2003. They went 0-2 ATS in a pair of underdog roles last year.

Clemson was 5-6 ATS in 11 games as a favorite in ’07. The Tigers played at the Georgia Dome in the post-season, losing a 23-20 decision to Auburn in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.

ABC will provide television coverage Saturday at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

--Clemson owns a 32-1 record when rushing for 200 yards or more under Bowden.

--Alabama has won 11 of 14 head-to-head meetings against Clemson, but these schools haven’t played each other since 1975.

--Saban won’t have a walk-through practice at the Georgia Dome. Here’s why.

--Clemson’s defensive coordinator Vic Koenning caused quite a stir with a few comments earlier this week, but we feel like it’s a non-story. Here’s the scoop if you didn’t hear about it.

--The last time Alabama played at the Georgia Dome? Shaun Alexander led the Tide to a dominating 34-7 win over Florida in the 1999 SEC Championship Game. This pimpslap featured a thrilling Freddie Milons punt return for a touchdown that put the game on ice and had one of the nasties crackblock blocks I've ever seen on a Gator. That punt return and the frenzy it sent the crowd into sit me and my group headed for the exits. Without question, the biggest no-show by a Florida team during the Spurrier Era.  

--Although tickets have been split 50/50, it says here that the Alabama contingent will have at least a 60/40 advantage.

--Whether it’s relevant or not is debatable, but we’ll nonetheless point out that ‘Bama lost 21-14 to FSU last year in a similar neutral-field game in Jacksonville.

--Is it just me, or has Hannah Storm only gotten better with age?

--For more Week 1 Nuggets, check out my blog page and feel free to add that page to your favorites.

Brian Edwards can be reached at briane@vegasinsider.com.

  
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