Georgia football-Clemson-2022 season
Nolan Smith had the first sack for Georgia in the 10-3 win against Clemson. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

Slight differences between Clemson and Georgia demonstrate razor-thin margins in college football

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Georgia football and Clemson are more alike than they are different

Georgia and Clemson are more alike than either fanbase would care to admit.

They’ve both shown they’re capable of beating Alabama in championship settings. They ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in scoring defense last season. Clemson and Georgia should once again have strong defenses going forward, as ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg ranked the two programs No. 1 and No. 2 in his future defense rankings.

Both coaches have also shown an aversion to the transfer portal.

Related: Georgia football podcast: Kirby Smart explains why UGA won’t be ‘one-hit wonder’

While Kirby Smart hasn’t been as demonstrably vocal as Dabo Swinney has been, the Georgia coach has made his position with regards to the transfer portal quite clear. Consider that Georgia has yet to dip into the portal to add any talent in this offseason cycle.

“The guys that want to be here, we’re going to coach them,” Smart said. “The guys that don’t, then we’re not going to chase after them. We can’t. That’s their determination. We’re trying to create a culture of I want to be here and grow and get better. Like you come to Georgia, you get developed.”

Clemson and Georgia each had to replace coordinators this offseason. Smart and Swinney both elected to promote from within the program to address the coaching turnover. Since he got started at Georgia and made his initial hires, only once has Smart gone outside the Georgia bubble to hire a coordinator. He replaced James Coley, a fellow in-house hire, with Todd Monken.

For years Clemson was built on the idea of stability. Minimal roster turnover, unless players are heading to the NFL, and keeping the same coaches. Smart’s comments made throughout the offseason show a similar team-building philosophy.

Yet the two schools, despite the same shared principles between the two coaches, enter the 2022 season in very different places. Georgia is riding high off a national championship. Clemson meanwhile is coming off its worst season since the advent of the College Football Playoff.

Part of that can be chalked up to recruiting differences between the two programs, as Georgia has proven to be much more aggressive on that front. Replacing long-time defensive coordinator Brent Venables is also a much bigger deal for Swinney than replacing Dan Lanning for Smart.

It’s a stark contrast for two teams who met to open the 2021 season and an extremely close game The difference on that night in Charlotte quite literally was a defensive touchdown by Georgia’s Chris Smith. It proved to be the only touchdown of the day, as the Bulldogs won 10-3.

Georgia was able to right most of its offensive wrongs committed that day. It took turning to Stetson Bennett over JT Daniels, who sustained multiple injuries during the 2021 campaign. Bennett was not perfect, but he was plenty good enough as he led the Bulldogs to a National Championship. What’s more is that he returns this season, as does Monken.

And while some Georgia fans may grumble about Bennett at quarterback, his performance in 2021 was far better than that of Clemson’s DJ Uiagalelei. Despite holding 5-star status from his days as a recruit, Uiagalelei struggled mightily in his first full year as a starter. He completed only 55 percent of his passes and had nine touchdown passes to 10 interceptions.

Uiagalelei returns for Clemson this year and will be working with a new offensive coordinator in Brandon Streeter, as Tony Elliott is now the head coach at Virginia. But Uiagalelei and the Clemson program face questions on the offensive side of the ball for the first time in a while. Questions Smart seemingly has had to answer every season at Georgia as there seems to be some sort of quarterback controversy.

In the various top-25 coaching lists that come out in the coming weeks of the offseason, Smart and Swinney will likely be No. 2 and No. 3. Swinney still has two National Championships and while Smart did win the head-to-head in 2021, the never-ending questions about the Georgia offense will in all likelihood keep him behind the Clemson coach.

The similarities between the two programs show just how razor-thin the margins are at the top of college football. Miss on a quarterback evaluation, and you’re playing in the Cheez-It Bowl instead of the College Football Playoff. Make the right coordinator hire, and you could find yourself winning another national championship.

Both teams figure to have good defenses once again in 2022. Even with all the replacements both Clemson and Georgia have to make, the infrastructure is good enough to allow for continued success on that side of the ball. Offensively questions linger. How well both schools answer those doubts will determine whether either side gets back into the College Football Playoff.

“I still think it’s an era of throwing the ball and scoring points. We’re going to have to do a better job of that and continue to do it,” Smart said in a recent appearance on the Paul Finebaum show. “We want to score points.

“To do that you have to have skill players who can make plays. We think we’re in a good position to do that.”

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