Sapakoff: Georgia-Clemson winner bound for Pasadena
CLEMSON — It’s not chronologically correct to wake up early Saturday morning and say, “There is no tomorrow.”
But there isn’t a “Day After GameDay” show.
Football opportunities such as No. 5 Georgia vs. No. 8 Clemson on Saturday night don’t roll into this postcard part of Pickens County very often. Yet Clemson coaches and players went out of their way Tuesday to make sure people realize the winner doesn’t get a free pass to January.
“The opener is just the opener,” head coach Dabo Swinney said. “You have to go play somebody.”
Quarterback Tajh Boyd said that while it’s “probably, supposedly the largest game in Clemson history,” it’s just one game.
Defensive coordinator Brent Venables pointed out that, sure, this is a “huge stage.” And that Clemson also has a game next week, against S.C. State.
So there are two approaches to a “GameDay” showdown that might have 300,000 humans crashing Clemson: Pop some of the orange balloons, or appreciate the matchup as even bigger than advertised.
So big the winner becomes a prime candidate to play in the BCS National Championship Game in Pasadena.
If Georgia wins, that defense suddenly isn’t so suspect. The Bulldogs take major momentum into September home games against South Carolina and LSU. Then it’s all downhill until the Alabama rematch in the SEC championship Game.
If Clemson wins, the ACC is for the taking. Fan zaniness will help carry the Tigers at least to Columbia and the regular season finale at South Carolina.
Georgia is a little better.
Clemson is the home team.
Mark Richt has never lost to Clemson (2-0).
Swinney has never coached against Georgia (but same time next year in Athens).
Boyd or Georgia star quarterback Aaron Murray likely will emerge among the Heisman Trophy frontrunners.
Juicy sideshows are everywhere.
Bulldogs running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall — former Clemson recruits — are among the best in the SEC.
“Gurley reminds you a bit of Adrian Peterson in certain ways,” said Venables, who was an assistant coach at Oklahoma when Peterson was the program’s best player.
Clemson lacks proven NFL prospects on defense but might have some impact freshmen in defensive end Shaq Lawson, nickel back Korrin Wiggins and linebacker Ben Boulware.
Swinney knows excitement has arrived early.
“There will be people rolling in here probably (Wednesday) night,” he said, “just to smell the campus.”
But he warned of the “clutter and noise” that comes with hype.
“It would be great to win the game. But we’re really just going to check off the first goal over there,” Swinney said, nodding at a goal list in the Clemson team room that reads 1. Win the opener, 2. Win the Atlantic Division, 3. Win the State, 4. Win the ACC, 5. Win the bowl game.
“We have much bigger goals than our opening game,” he went on. “And this is for both teams. In a game like this, you have to be careful because it’s not a win-all, end-all type of deal. It’s a long season.”
It’s always a long, dramatic season around these parts.
But Georgia isn’t Guam Tech.
Swinney was asked, in general terms, about scheduling in the future.
“If we’re a 12-1, 13-0 type of team with winning a conference championship on top of that, there’s no way that we’re not going to be in the national scene,” he said.
This year, it starts with an embraceable first step for the ages.
Swinney said he will encourage his players to sleep in Saturday at the team hotel. But with a rare episode of “GameDay” on at 9 a.m., don’t expect Clemson fans to do the same.
They’ll save that for Sunday.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff.