Georgia on My Mind

It's only late May but I can't seem to get the August 30th showdown with Georgia off my mind. When you're trying to return your program to national prominence, every game is a big game, but this game is huge.

Two years ago head coach Tommy Bowden had Clemson fans thinking the football program was back on track. He had taken the Tigers from 3 wins to 9 in just two seasons. Nevertheless, the last two years have been somewhat disappointing, and many Tiger fans are now wondering if Tommy is the coach that can lead Clemson back to its first ACC Championship since 1991.

A win against the nationally ranked Georgia Bulldogs would certainly allow the fifth year head coach to silence many of his critics. Not only is this game is a critical one for Bowden's future, but it also is critical for the short term future of the program in general.

A win over a nationally ranked Georgia team to start the year would give the players a great deal of confidence headed into a tough 2003 ACC schedule.

But before we discuss this year's game with the Bulldogs let's take a quick trip down memory lane. Go back with me to August 31st, 2002, when there is only 2:25 left in the 3rd quarter and the Tigers have just taken a 28-21 lead over Georgia in Samford Stadium.

Football fans everywhere are wondering if the Dawgs are going to be not as good as predicted or if the Clemson Tigers going to be better than expected. The announcers on ESPN rave about the arm of Willie Simmons and one of the best sets of receivers in college football- the Clemson receiving core.

Unfortunately we all know the ending.

Georgia rallies behind back up QB D.J. Shockley late in the fourth quarter and wins the game by 3. A quick check of the statistics shows the Tigers outplayed the Bulldogs everywhere except the scoreboard. Clemson had 19 first downs to Georgia's 14. The Tigers also held a 233 to 203 lead in total yards. Yet a special teams collapse on a kickoff return a two missed field goals ultimately led to the Tigers' demise.

Now let's turn our attention to this year's battle in Death Valley and we'll begin by reviewing how the teams have changed from last year. The Bulldogs lost 7 talented players to the NFL draft including first round picks in Offensive tackle George Foster and defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan. Linebacker Boss Bailey and offensive tackle Jonathan Stinchcomb were second round selections, and running back Musa Smith left Georgia early and grabbed in the 3rd round by the Baltimore Ravens. Linebacker Tony Gilbert and fullback JT Wall were also selected in the later rounds of the draft.

The school's all-time leading receiver in Terrance Edwards is also gone. Linebacker Charlie Clemons and offensive linemen Kareem Marshall, Alex Jackson and Kevin Breedlove were not drafted but will attempt to make NFL teams as free agents.

Unfortunately for Georgia fans, the personel losses have continued to pile this offseason in the worst way possible. As if Mark Richt didn't have enough to worry about, it seemas as though he has been busy handing out suspensions ever since the Dawg's impressive win over Florida State in the Nokia Sugar Bowl.

Top cornerbacks Tim Jennings and DeMario Minter and receiver Mario Raley were given 2 game suspensions for marijuana possession. Center Randall Swoopes, a candidate to start at center, was also suspended for marijuana possession and transferred to Georgia Military College. Additional suspensions were handed out to cornerback BJ Fields, backup fullback Chris Hickman and linebacker Jamario Smith for 1 game. Backup running back Tyson Browning has been suspended for 3 games.

Headaches continued for Richt when the ring scam broke and 9 more Georgia players were declared ineligible by the NCAA for selling their SEC championship rings on E-Bay. They include defensive lineman Kedric Golston, defensive back Kenny Bailey, outstanding receivers Michael Johnson and Fred Gibson, defensive back Bruce Thornton, cornerback Tim Jennings, running back Trey Young, defensive tackle Darrius Swain and linebacker Tony Taylor. Thornton, Jennings, Gibson, Swain, Taylor and Johnson all finished the spring as probable starters for the Dawgs. The players are appealing their eligibility once they have paid restitution.

The good news for Georgia fans is that this year's recruiting class in Athens was very strong, and with the sudden changes in personell this offseason, Coach Richt may be forced to use some of those younger players in the season opener against Clemson.

For the Tigers, the 2003 offseason hasn't been quite as bad, but it hasn't been anything to write home about either.

Starting defensive lineman Nick Eason and Bryant McNeal were both selected in the 4th round by Denver. Defensive starters Brian Mance, Altroy Bodrick, and Rodney Thomas will pursue their dreams to play on Sunday's as free agents. Starting tackle Gary Byrd will also try to make the NFL as a free agent. Running back Bernard Rambert has also played his final down for the Tigers.

Academics have also taken their toll this past spring as grades will keep potential starters Kelvin Morris and Brandon Jamison from participating in 2003. Clemson also lost 5-star JUCO recruit Brian Staley to academics. All three players are hopeful to play for Clemson in 2004.

The Tigers also had 3 players transfer. Former starting quarterback Willie Simmons decided to transfer to Florida A&M after battling Charlie Whitehurst for the starting spot this spring. All Tiger fans wish Willie the best in the future. Clemson has never had a better ambassador than Willie Simmons. Wide Receiver Ronnie Thomas and safety Charles Harper have also decided to transfer.

Injuries have already made their impact on the 2003 season for the Tigers. Potential offensive line starter Jermyn Chester was lost for the season to a knee injury this spring. Ronnie Delusme and cornerback Toure Francis are working hard to return from injuries next season.

Tomorrow, we will continue to take a detailed look at the Georgia game by previewing the individual matchups between these two teams. Top Stories