Gene Sapakoff is the oldest, fastest, hardest-hitting sports journalist in S.C. As columnist at The Post and Courier he covers Clemson, South Carolina and other interesting things. He likes food and has won the prestigious Judson Chapman Award 3 times.

Cade Klubnik

Clemson freshman quarterback Cade Klubnik (2) throws a pass in practice with sophomore quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei (5) and offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter (orange ballcap) among those watching. The Tigers open their 2022 season on Sept. 5, 2022, against Georgia Tech at Atlanta's Mercedes Benz Stadium. Provided/Clemson University athletics 

ATLANTA — Merriam-Webster — a dictionary, not an NCAA Division II football program on a Big 12 team’s schedule — defines controversy as “a discussion marked especially by the expression of opposing views.”

The discussion doesn’t have to get personal or involve the throwing of rotten vegetables. But (and I checked with the folks at Merriam-Webster to confirm) it can involve quarterbacks.

Clemson Nation already has a wonderful quarterback controversy going into its Sept. 5 season opener against Georgia Tech at Atlanta's Mercedes Benz Stadium, and it’s about to get better.

D.J. Uiagalelei is the super-talented sophomore who underachieved in 2021. He’s worked hard and looked sharp since Clemson finished 10-3.

Cade Klubnik is the shiny new arm, a personable star recruit who never lost as a high school starter in Texas. He seems capable of leading the Tigers a seventh College Football Playoff appearance in eight seasons.

Those in Klubnik’s corner have nothing against Uiagalelei, well known as a swell guy. They simply don’t trust him to win big after Deshaun Watson, Kelly Bryant and Trevor Lawrence got the Tigers to playoff games and Uiagalelei eked out a 20-13 win over unranked Iowa State in the Cheez-It Bowl.

But pardon Uiagalelei supporters if they want to see what happens when the No. 2-rated quarterback in the high school recruiting class of 2020 (behind Alabama’s Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young) gets to play with a reasonably healthy Clemson cast.

Other schools should have such a flaming controversy.

Ideally for Clemson’s playoff hopes, buzz builds as the season beats on, looking something like this:

Vs. Georgia Tech, Sept. 5

Head coach Dabo Swinney and offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter keep raving about Uiagalelei’s progress.

Another great update straight from the practice field: Swinney’s answer on Sept. 1 when I asked about Klubnik’s adjustment to the speed of the college game.

“It’s been seamless,” he said. “Just like we want to see.”

Swinney compares Klubnik to Watson, Lawrence and Uiagalelei at the same preseason stage of freshman year.

“And right out of the gate you saw the aptitude,” Swinney said. “You saw the raw level of skill and talent. You saw the commitment and work ethic and attention to details. All those things.”

Uiagalelei comes out firing, with flashes of Klubnik brilliance mixed into the lopsided rout.

Which only stokes the Club Klubnik fire.

At Wake Forest, Sept. 24

Someone on the coaching staff and thousands of Clemson fans on social media remind the Tigers that the Demon Deacons are the ACC’s defending Atlantic Division champs.

As Clemson leaves Winston-Salem with a 4-0 record, people understand what Uiagalelei meant on Aug. 31 when he said, “I’m a totally different guy.”

Record: 4-0, but untested.

QB stats: Uiagalelei would likely lead the ACC in most categories, but doesn’t play full-time; Klubnik proves he’s one of the nation’s top freshmen, but usually gets in with big leads.

N.C. State, Oct. 1

No college team in the country has two better quarterbacks. That’s apparent as Clemson beats previously undefeated N.C. State in a Textile Bowl grudge match.

Uiagalelei and Klubnik credit a healthy and cohesive offensive line, deep backfield and the 11 different receivers who caught passes.

It’s what Clemson fans imagined on Aug. 31 when Uiagalelei said, “We’ve all put in a lot of work this off-season. We’ve all built a lot of chemistry — receivers, quarterbacks running backs, tight ends offensive linemen … It’s been good. I think we’re all excited to get out there game one to show everybody who we are this year.”

At Florida State, Oct. 15

It’s not quite LeBron James vs. Michael Jordan.

But the “Who Should Start for Clemson?” quarterback debate is a national sports talk show thing.

The Tigers improve to 7-0 after another victory in Tallahassee.

Klubnik continues to say all the right things.

Uiagalelei keeps growing as a leader.

At Notre Dame, Nov. 5

This isn’t the flashy statistical show Uiagalelei put on playing at Notre Dame as a freshman in 2020, his first college road start (439 yards passing in a 47-40 double-overtime loss with Lawrence recovering from COVID-19).

But Clemson wins this time.

Uigagalelei doesn’t even play three full quarters.

Klubnik sees enough action to throw two touchdown passes.

Clearly, he’s the best second-best quarterback Clemson has ever had.

And consider the South Bend weather: ESPN’s GameDay crew in earmuffs early, chicken soup in the locker room at halftime, a wintry mix late.

South Carolina, Nov. 26

Remember Watson’s first game against the Gamecocks? He helped snap Clemson’s five-game rivalry losing streak while playing on a torn ACL in 2014.

Of recent Clemson quarterbacks, Swinney from way back before the Georgia Tech games was saying Klubnik’s football ability most resembles that of Watson.

“Just because they’re so similar physically,” Swinney said. “Almost clones if you put them side by side and how they’re built structurally and where they were (at the same time).”

Both reported to campus at approximately 179 pounds and weighed around 200 by August.

“Cade’s probably a little faster,” Swinney said. “But they throw the ball similarly. Very similar characteristics as far as creativity.”

Many fans wonder if 12-0 Clemson would have had wider margins of victory with Klubnik as the starter.

ACC Championship Game, Dec. 3

Another Clemson win.

More talk about Uiagalelei’s 2022 performance boosting his 2023 NFL draft stock.

The steadily improving Klubnik looks like a 2025 first-round pick.

Alas, more sweet controversy going into a playoff semifinal.

Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff