ESPN lays out why Georgia can become ‘the next Clemson’
Clemson wasn’t always the national title contender it currently is on annual basis. From 1990 to 2014, the Tigers had just a single finish in the top-10. Clemsoning used to very much be a thing, where the Tigers would blow a game to an opponent they shouldn’t.
But the signs were there that the Tigers were ready to breakthrough, as Clemson seemed to be turning the corner under Dabo Swinney.
From Deshaun Watson’s sophomore season on, Clemson has become a mainstay in not just the top-10 but the national title conversation. Clemson has won two national titles in that span, while making the College Football Playoff in every single season since 2015.
ESPN’s Bill Connelly noted Clemson’s ascendance and the factors that led to them elevating into the top tier of the sport and wondered which teams might be best positioned to join the Tigers in the penthouse of college football.
His first choice happened to be the Georgia Bulldogs, though he acknowledged that it felt a little like cheating given how close Georgia seems to be to a breakthrough.
“Kirby Smart’s Dawgs indeed made the national title game in 2017, their average SP+ rating is higher than OU’s, they’ve got the top-10 finishes mentioned above and the only team that has landed more ESPN 300 prospects than UGA over the past three years is Bama,” Connelly wrote. “The only thing they’re lacking is a sustained, CFP-level breakthrough.”
Connelly went on to add that the two reasons Georgia hasn’t been able is the lack of an elite offense and the fact that Alabama is in the same league.
In the early part of Swinney’s time at Clemson, the Tigers had similar problem in that they were in the same division as Florida State. The Seminoles went 39-3, including a 3-0 mark against Clemson from 2012 to 2014.
But once Clemson cracked the code on Florida State with a 23-13 win in 2015, the Seminoles have not been remotely close to the same program. Clemson has won the ACC in each of the past six seasons. It is 6-0 against the Seminoles in that time.
Nick Saban’s demise at Alabama has been offseason fodder for close to decade now, but Alabama still continues to be a juggernaut. If Georgia were to beat the Crimson Tide — the Bulldogs are 0-3 against Alabama since Kirby Smart became the coach — it would go a long way in removing the sense of invincibility around the Crimson Tide and perhaps propel Georgia to the summit of the SEC.
As for the offense improvements, Georgia did make progress at the end of the 2020 season once JT Daniels became the starting quarterback. Daniels returns in 2021, as does offensive coordinator Todd Monken and most of Georgia’s skill players.
While the Bulldogs haven’t yet become annual playoff participants as Clemson has, Georgia still has the same title aspirations as the Tigers. Smart recently spoke about those expectations and how Georgia is aware of them.
“We never shy away from those expectations but that’s not going to get the end goal,” Smart said. “The end goal is to have a net sum gain of positives and you’re trying to constantly move people from over here, who might be on the negative side and then on the positive side bring more guys along.
“As you do that, the end goal is that you get more results- that you’re able to win championships. We never shy away from that being our goal, but it’s not something we have to talk about everyday.”
The Bulldogs will get a chance to show how close they are to those title goals and the Clemson program, as the two teams meet in Charlotte to open the 2021 season. The game is set for a Sept. 4 start date and will be the first time since the 2014 season the two sides have met.
Should Georgia come away with a win in that contest, the Bulldogs will seem much, much closer to reaching that tier that Clemson and Alabama seem to occupy on a yearly basis.
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