Each week, Clemson student Brad Adams gives us an inside look at Clemson football in his column “Behind Enemy Lines.”
Creating the game
The idea for the Chick fil-A College Kickoff, which is played annually at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta during the college football season’s opening weekend, came from the Kickoff Classic held in the Meadowlands from 1983-2002. Chick fil-A’s chief marketing officer, Steve Robinson, wants to build the game up to the centerpiece of the college football world in the season’s opening week. An ACC vs. SEC matchup has been featured in all but one College Kickoff, with dual goals of sparking conference rivalry and kindling passion for college football across the southeast. The first contest featured a clash between conference heavyweights Clemson and Alabama in 2008. The Tigers were not only favored to beat Alabama, but were also favored to win the ACC. The result, a 34-10 Alabama win, shows why the game is played on the field, not on paper. Other previous matchups have included a thrilling LSU victory over North Carolina, Alabama defeating Virginia Tech, and Boise State defeating Georgia.
This year, the College Kickoff will feature two games for the first time. The first will be Friday night between NC State and Tennessee. The marquee matchup, however, will occur on Saturday night, as Clemson faces Auburn for the fourth time in five seasons. Clemson suffered an overtime defeat at the hands of Auburn in the 2007 Chick fil-A Bowl after both teams finished second in their respective conferences. In 2010, Cam Newton led Auburn to an exciting 27-24 overtime win over Clemson on the Plains, during which Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker couldn’t connect with a wide open Jaron Brown for what should have been the game-winning touchdown in overtime. A missed field goal moments later ended the game and opened the door for Cam Newton and company to make their national title run. Last season, Clemson snapped Auburn’s long winning streak with a convincing 38-24 victory.
Previewing the matchup
Clemson makes the short trip down I-85 this week looking for a crucial victory over a rebuilding Auburn squad that might surprise some people this year. Running back Onterio McCalebb and All-SEC tight end Phillip Lutzenkirchen are the anchors for this year’s Auburn offense. The quarterback position is a major question mark, but the Tigers feature a defense that returns ten starters from a season ago. Auburn will be an improved team, but the Tigers are still the fourth best team in the SEC West at best until they can find a quarterback to distribute the ball to their receiving corps.
Clemson returns five All-ACC players and one AP All-American in Sammy Watkins on offense, although he will be unavailable until the third week of the season due to a suspension. Defensively, the Tigers return eight starters and are strong at the defensive back and linebacker positions. New defensive coordinator Brent Venables, hired away from Oklahoma this offseason, brings experience and knowledge to the table this year. With another year of chemistry, Clemson should be one of the nation’s top offensive attacks. Tajh Boyd will have Brown, DeAndre Hopkins, Adam Humphries, and Martavis Bryant to catch balls, with Andre Ellington leading the rushing attack and keeping the pressure off the passing game.
The final word
All in all, this Saturday will be a high profile kickoff game in Atlanta with two strong teams hoping to take the win in the national spotlight. Neither team seems to have an edge on the defensive side of the ball. Venables was a huge addition to the coaching staff this offseason, but the unit is still reeling after giving up the interstate speed limit to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl. Because Auburn returns all but one starter from 2011, their team chemistry may play a factor in Saturday’s game.
Offensively, however, the edge goes to Clemson, which features a quarterback who may be in the Heisman discussion this season, a wide receiving corps that may be the best in college football, and a dependable running back. Look for Hopkins, who caught 71 passes for 961 yards and five touchdowns a year ago, to have an explosive game with Watkins out. The spread is Clemson by five, but I foresee a 31-24 victory for Clemson. I simply think Clemson has more offense, but if Auburn can establish their running game, it could be a true test for my Tigers.
Photo Credit: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/c/c7/Chick-fil-a_college_kickoff.PNG
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