HOOVER, Ala. — Emory Blake can’t wait to take the Georgia Dome turf for Auburn’s Sept. 1 opener against Clemson in Atlanta.
“I’m very excited to let people see what we’ve been working on,” the senior wide receiver said of Auburn’s revamped offense. “I’m excited for the world to see.”
The Clemson defense, you might recall, surrendered 70 points when last spotted in a collegiate football game.
Easy pickings, right?
“No,” Blake said, back peddling Wednesday at SEC Media Days. “Because they have a good defense. Very strong, very fast. And big. It doesn’t matter what they did in the last game.”
But it matters a lot to both Tigers what happens in their third clash in three seasons.
It’s become one of the best, most featured college football rivalries in the South.
Clemson and Auburn are linked by nickname and tradition — iconic John Heisman coached at both schools — but separated by the gulf between the SEC and ACC.
Lots of layers come with this next game, the rubber match after a home-and-home split.
Clemson is a defending conference champion, but Auburn the team coming off a bowl victory. Against an ACC foe (Virginia) in Atlanta (43-24 in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl).
“For playing a team that’s not in your conference, the Auburn Tigers vs. the Clemson Tigers is kind of a very well-fit game,” Auburn head coach Gene Chizik said. “It makes sense. It’s going to be exciting for our players.
“To have that game at the beginning of the season is interesting for our guys. We haven’t necessarily had a game like this since I’ve been here.”
Chizik knows that Auburn fans are well aware that Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney is an Alabama guy.
Clemson fans know the last time Clemson opened a season at the Georgia Dome, Tommy Bowden and Co. were clobbered by, uh, Alabama (34-10 in 2008).
Chizik labled Clemson “probably a top 10 team.”
“They do a great job,” he said. “It’s going to be a great test for us early. We’re going to have to play extremely well to beat this football team, which is loaded. The offensive side of the ball has a bunch of returners back. Their special teams are off the chart. They have a new defensive coordinator. I know (defensive coordinator Brent) Venables does a great job. Wherever he’s been, he’s been a force to be reckoned with.”
Auburn has two new coordinators. Scott Loeffler replaces new Arkansas State head coach Gus Malzahan and shelves a spread offense for more of a pro set. Former Georgia and Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder keeps telling Auburn players they must have the “relentless” approach of former star Georgia defensive lineman David Pollack.
Added spice to an already gripping series:
• 2010, at Auburn: Cam Newton rallied Auburn to a 27-24 overtime victory in a game Clemson led 17-0. The Sept. 18 game put Newton on track to win the Heisman Trophy and jump-started Auburn on its way to the national title.
• 2011, at Clemson: Rolling for 624 yards in a 38-24 victory, Clemson sets a tone that trended to the program’s first ACC championship since 1991. Again, the loser had a big early lead, 14-0.
The 2010 loss included Kyle Parker’s rib injury, a critical wound that haunted Clemson all year.
Auburn’s 2011 setback at Death Valley snapped a 17-game win streak and was the first of five losses for a team that ran the table the year before.
The mold says the Sept. 1 winner has lots of success ahead, the loser a year of pain and suffering.
The Tigers, or the Tigers?
Reach Gene Sapakoff at 937-5593 or on Twitter @sapakoff