Georgia Bulldogs-Clemson a stirring SEC opener

photo Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd receives instructions from offensive coordinator Chad Morris during the Tigers' spring game on April 13.

PUT TO THE TESTThe Clemson Tigers could be the ninth top-10 team to open a football season against Georgia:YEAR ... TEAM (RANKING) ... RESULT1961 ... Alabama (No. 3) ... def. Georgia, 32-61962 ... Alabama (No. 3) ... def. Georgia, 35-01963 ... Alabama (No. 3) ... def. Georgia, 32-71964 ... Alabama (No. 6) ... def. Georgia, 31-31965 ... Alabama (No. 5) ... lost to Georgia, 18-171968 ... Tennessee (No. 9) ... tied 17-172009 ... Oklahoma St. (No. 9) ... def. Georgia, 24-102011 ... Boise State (No. 5) ... def. Georgia, 35-21

There will be no easing into the 2013 college football season for the proud Southeastern Conference.

The league has one head-to-head matchup the opening weekend with Ole Miss visiting Vanderbilt, and there are six games involving SEC members against teams from other BCS conferences. Alabama will face Virginia Tech, LSU will face TCU and Mississippi State will face Oklahoma State in neutral-site pairings, but the marquee showdown will be Georgia's trip to Clemson.

Georgia and Clemson combined for 23 victories last season, with the Bulldogs ranking fifth and Clemson 11th in the final Associated Press poll. The game will showcase two senior quarterbacks, Aaron Murray and Tajh Boyd, who could factor into this year's Heisman Trophy conversation, and ABC already has jumped at televising the Aug. 31 contest in prime time.

"It's definitely going to be an exciting game," Murray said this spring. "Tajh and I are actually pretty good friends and have texted back and forth about that game. It has to be one of the biggest games of the season. People may hype it up as me against him, but it's Georgia versus Clemson."

Clemson and Louisville, incidentally, are the only programs nationally with three wins over SEC teams in the past two seasons. The Tigers have defeated Auburn twice and LSU once.

Boyd and Murray each threw for 36 touchdowns last season, with Boyd's 3,896 passing yards eclipsing Murray's total by just 3. Each guided an offense that demolished numerous school marks, with the Tigers averaging 512.7 yards and 41 points per game and the Bulldogs averaging 467.6 and 37.8.

An offensive eruption is being forecast for Death Valley, especially with the Bulldogs having to replace seven defensive starters. One of Georgia's rising stars, sophomore safety Josh Harvey-Clemons, recently was suspended for the opener after violating team rules.

"They are really good at throwing and catching, and Boyd is one of the best players in America," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "They've got some really skilled receivers, and they know what they're doing. It's going to be a big challenge, no doubt."

Boyd is sure to be looking for junior receiver Sammy Watkins, who missed four games last season yet still snagged 57 receptions for 708 yards and three touchdowns.

On the flip side, Georgia returns every offensive starter except receiver Tavarres King, while Clemson has six defensive starters back and 10 who made at least five starts. The Tigers were a defensive punchline this time last year after allowing 70 points to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl after the 2011 season, but they enter this season with more momentum.

Clemson allowed 49 points in a loss to Florida State and 48 points in a win over North Carolina State last year, but the Tigers were impressive in their 25-24 Chick-fil-A Bowl victory, holding LSU to nine first downs and 219 yards.

"I know we are going to be much improved on defense," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "I saw that this spring."

Georgia and Clemson will be meeting for the first time since 2003, when Richt's visiting Bulldogs routed Tommy Bowden's Tigers 30-0 to extend their series advantage to 41-17-4. The two schools met annually from 1973 to 1987, with the Bulldogs winning the '80 national championship and the Tigers taking the next year's.

Legendary Bulldogs tailback Herschel Walker was 32-1 in regular-season games during his three seasons in Athens, with the '81 game at Clemson his lone blemish.

"It's an old-school rivalry," Murray said, "and I know this was a big game years ago."

No more 'Gurshall'

Bulldogs tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall were dubbed "Gurshall" last season in reference to Walker, but Richt told reporters Tuesday in Macon that he wouldn't mind that nickname going away this year for the two sophomores.

"I think the guys want to get away from the Gurshall label a little bit," Richt said, "They are two individual human beings, so I am all for breaking off that saying."

Contact David Paschall at or 423-757-6524.