CLEMSON OFFENSE VS. ALABAMA DEFENSE
The focus here will be how the Tigers' new offensive line handles what Nick Saban and Co. throw at them. And, in step with that, how many snaps the starting five can play without suffering injury or losing effectiveness. Because, again, with head coach Tommy Bowden admitting his confidence level with his backups for that unit being as low as a five on the old 1-10 scale, the five who start the game will get 90 percent or more of the offensive plays.
Alabama has one starter returning on its defensive line, but the man drawing the most attention is JUCO transfer nose guard Terrence Cody. At 6-foot-5, 365 pounds, Cody is reportedly much more athletic than his size would indicate. It will be an interesting test for Clemson center Thomas Austin. The Tide also has one starter returning at linebacker, the dynamic Rolando McClain, and two starters returning in the secondary.
So with Alabama having numerous question marks as well, the battle comes down to this. Can the offensive line handle the ridiculous amount of pressure Saban will throw at them, allowing Cullen Harper, James Davis, C.J. Spiller, Aaron Kelly and the rest to do their thing?
The guess here is yes.
ADVANTAGE - CLEMSON
CLEMSON DEFENSE VS. ALABAMA OFFENSE
Alabama has four starting offensive linemen returning and a quarterback - John Parker Wilson - who may hold every school passing record by the time this season is complete. The Tide also gets injured running back Terry Grant back in the fold, and will debut much-heralded freshman wideout Julio Jones. Also making its debut will be the new-look offensive scheme, courtesy of new coordinator Jim McElwain.
McElwain comes to Tuscaloosa from Fresno State and will give Tide fans a completely different offense to observe. Besides running behind the veteran line, and trying to free Jones up down the field, expect to see the Grant and the rest of the backs be heavily involved in the passing game.
But Jones has never played in a college football game. And You Tube videos aside, nothing he's done in the past matters. Just like any other freshman. And he, along with the rest of the unproven 'Bama wide receivers, will be going against a veteran Clemson secondary.
In the end, too many veterans wearing orange.
ADVANTAGE - CLEMSON
This will remain a question mark for the Tigers under Bowden until he once and for all avoids the mistakes which has plagued him in this facet of the game. While the kickoff coverage improved as the year went on, the punting was adequate and the return game was very good, inconsistency from kicker Mark Buchholz - who was also playing soccer at the time - was maddening as the season wore on.
This year its football only for Buchholz, and Bowden's reports from practice say he's been kicking well. The biggest question mark right now is who punts? Incumbent Jimmy Maners and Dawson Zimmerman have been locked in a battle since practice opened in August, and a starter isn't expected to be named until game day.
The big question: Will Bowden use an unproven kicker in a sold-out Dome on national television, or will Maners get the nod because he's been there before?
Alabama figures to be dangerous in the return game with Javier Arenas returning, plus the addition of Jones. And the Tide's kickoff coverage unit was second in the SEC last year and didn't allow a touchdown. Bobby Williams takes over as coordinator of this unit.
Taking a show-me attitude here, to a certain extent.
ADVANTAGE - EVEN
There's no doubting the resume' of Nick Saban. He has Alabama fans frothing at the mouth over this program again, despite winning just seven games in his first season. And for Clemson, Tommy Bowden appears more comfortable - and focused - than in any of his previous nine preseasons. Not that there was a lack of focus before, but just the way he talks exudes a quiet confidence.
Not that it means much once the whistle blows. The crowd will be about evenly split, both teams are familiar with the surroundings, and even Vic Koenning's "bulletin board material" won't mean a thing once this one gets underway.
ADVANTAGE - EVEN
Bottom line, Clemson has too much returning talent. Alabama has too many question marks this early in the season. The Tigers should - should - win this one by two scores. So, deviating from my on-the-air pick back in June...
THE PICK: Clemson 27, Alabama 14
Dan Scott is host of the sports talk show Cruise Control on the flagship station for Clemson sports 104.9 FM The Drive weekdays from 9 AM to 12 PM. You can send Dan a story idea or ask Dan a question for his new mailbag feature coming up on CUTigers.com at email@example.com.