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What the future of the Georgia football-Clemson rivalry will look like
To call Clemson a Georgia rival at this point in time feels premature. Yes, the teams have a storied history against each other dating back to 1897, but the schools have played just four times since the year 2000.
But the lack of recent history didn’t prevent Georgia head coach Kirby Smart calling the Tigers a rival.
“It’s a rivalry game,” Smart said. “You poll your fan base, which is really the most important thing, you go look at your alumni base and you look at your financial supporters and say, ‘what do you guys want?’ To a T they want to see these kind of games.”
Clemson and Georgia are just 73 miles apart. They’ve gone head-to-head in recruiting for prospects such as Jamaree Salyer, Barrett Carter and Trevor Lawrence. The two sides are quite familiar with each other, as are their respective fan bases.
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While Clemson hasn’t kept Georgia out of a playoff spot just yet, the two teams will play each six times over the next 12 years in various non-conference games. Those games figure to have playoff stakes, as will be the case when the two teams meet on Sept. 4.
By comparison, Georgia and Alabama have played just five times over the past 12 seasons. The Bulldogs have yet to beat Alabama in that span, but you could still comfortably call what those two teams have a rivalry at the moment.
Like the rest of college football, Georgia has quite a few rivalry games. There are the big ones in Florida, Auburn and Georgia Tech. Add in Tennessee, Alabama and even South Carolina and the Bulldogs play a number of what could be considered rivalry games.
Where Clemson fits in that pecking order of rivals will depend on the onfield battles in the coming years. If the Tigers win their fair share of contests against Georgia — whether in the College Football Playoff or early on in the season — the intensity will likely resemble some of the recent contests against Florida and Alabama.
But if Georgia is able to develop an edge over Clemson, the term rivalry might not so much apply. If you ask most Alabama fans right now, they wouldn’t consider Georgia a rival at this point in time.
“To go out and get a Clemson, which most of our financial supporters and our alumni base, that’s a game they grew up watching, they want that game year in and year out,” Smart said. “That’s probably the same way with Clemson.”
Given the current status of the ACC, the game likely carries a little bit more weight for Dabo Swinney and the Tigers. Playing, and potentially beating, Georgia quells the notion of Clemson getting to the College Football Playoff by playing in an inferior conference.
Let’s also not ignore the role in which the College Football Playoff played in rekindling this rivalry. The last time these two teams met was in 2014, the first year of the College Football Playoff. The Bulldogs came away with an impressive 45-21 victory. Had Georgia not stumbled against Florida or South Carolina, that win likely would’ve been a huge boost to Georgia’s playoff chances.
Four of the future six games come after the current College Football Playoff contract expires. It is expected at this point for the College Football Playoff to expand at some point in the near future.
Related: Kirby Smart calls possible playoff expansion ‘a good thing’
That’s another why Georgia and Clemson became more open to playing each other in future seasons. The upside to beating a team like Clemson far outweighs the downside.
Even in the 2021 season, a Georgia win over Clemson would help far more than a loss would hurt. If the Bulldogs can beat a Clemson team that should start the season ranked in the top-5, it increases the margin of error Georgia has going forward.
As we saw last year, even after Notre Dame lost 34-10 against Clemson in the ACC championship game, the Fighting Irish still made the College Football Playoff because of their win over the Tigers earlier in the season.
Clemson makinge the playoff even with that midseason loss to Notre Dame shows why there’s little downside in these type of games. Sure the Tigers had to win out to earn their spot in the College Football Playoff, but Georgia is going to have to do that anyway.
Imagine a scenario where Georgia beats Clemson in week 1, wins the rest of its regular-season games and then enters the SEC championship game with an unbeaten record. Thanks to the strength of that Clemson win, the Bulldogs should be in excellent shape for the four-team playoff. That is even in the event that Georgia losses in the SEC championship game.