Georgia vs. Clemson
When: Aug. 31, 8 p.m.
Where: Memorial Stadium, Clemson
TV: ABC (WCIV)
Georgia vs. South Carolina
When: Sept. 7, 4:30 p.m.
Where: Sanford Stadium, Athens
HOOVER, Ala. — Oh, those unconventional Georgia Bulldogs.
Lose to South Carolina early in the season.
But wind up in Atlanta playing in the SEC championship game each of the last two years.
Quarterback Aaron Murray is a respected senior leader on the verge of becoming Georgia’s career passing leader — with a 3-9 record against ranked opponents.
The funky beat goes on.
South Carolina All-Planet defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, 2-0 against both Georgia and Clemson, labeled Murray and Tigers quarterback Tajh Boyd “scared” earlier this week at SEC Media Days.
Murray made it clear Thursday. He is more concerned about Georgia’s Aug. 31 season opener at Clemson than the big, bad ESPY Award winner.
“I’m not worried about it,” Murray said of Clowney’s blast. “I respect the dude. He’s really an unbelievable football player.”
If Georgia-Clemson isn’t a top 10 matchup, it will be real close. It’s a “Gameday” natural, an 8 p.m. kickoff on WCIV/ABC.
“Our guys are very excited about the start of the season,” said Murray, who enters his fourth season as a starter. “Definitely, it’s pushed us to work even harder. We need to be in midseason form at the start of the season.”
Richt: ‘I’d be scared’
True, a loss at Clemson casts extra doubt on Murray’s ability to win big games.
And a loss just motivates the Bulldogs for their Sept. 7 game against Clowney and Co.
“There’s a difference between fear and respect,” Murray went on about Clowney. “If I’m worried about the defensive line, I’m not doing my job.”
Mark Richt had a perfect Clowney response.
“I don’t know about those guys in particular,” the Georgia head coach said of Murray and Boyd, “but I would think some guys are scared of him. I’d be scared of him if I was in the game.”
Richt praised Murray as a “365-day-a-year quarterback” who does charity work, trains hard, eats to prepare, signs autographs, gets good grades. The 6-1, 208-pound Murray this summer has been an unofficial player-coach, coordinating “voluntary” workouts and rewarding productive teammates with dinners.
“The reason I came back,” Murray said, “is to win championships.”
Ideally, the SEC quest starts with a streak-snapping victory against the dominant but perplexed Gamecocks.
Ask Connor Shaw.
“It’s frustrating,” the Gamecocks quarterback said Tuesday. “We beat Georgia the last couple years, but we just couldn’t win the big games after that.”
Murray set Georgia single-season records with 3,893 passing yards and a 174.8 rating in 2012. He’s 627 yards behind David Greene’s school career passing yards record. Murray is second in SEC career touchdown passes with 95 (Florida’s Danny Wuerffel threw 114).
Running back stats, though, project as the key to Georgia’s 2013 success. Murray on Thursday was the third-team quarterback on the All-SEC Preseason Team selected at SEC Media Days (behind Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Alabama’s A.J. McCarron). Running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall were first-team and second-team, respectively.
It’s the first time Murray has had a starting running back return, and they will run behind an offensive line with five starters back.
Conventional wisdom says those guys must carry a defense that lost nine starters.
“I don’t think I have to carry them at all,” Murray said. “They’re very talented. I think they’re going to be great.”
If so, Georgia is a legit national title contender.
We’ll see Aug. 31 at Clemson.
And if Georgia loses, Murray will get another chance to win against a ranked team the following week when Clowney visits Athens.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff
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