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Georgia-Clemson is a great start, but ‘Bama overshadows every big game

FloridAtlantic v Alabama

Florida Atlantic v Alabama

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Updated: August 30, 2013 9:05PM

One might think a season-opening clash of top-10 teams would stand on its own merit, but the elephant in the room knows better. It’s the same elephant that routinely inhabits college-football stadiums across this land. Wherever a game with major national implications is played, the beast — known as Big Al — casts an enormous shadow.

If you don’t know, and by now you probably should, Big Al is the name of the angry-looking elephant in the logo of one of the great football schools of all time, Alabama.

It’s also the name of Alabama’s cute, pathetic, harmless-looking mascot, but we won’t talk about that.

The biggest and best game of Week 1 is about Georgia, Clemson and the Crimson Tide, and probably not in that order. Nothing about Nick Saban’s dynasty says harmless. The Bulldogs and Tigers absolutely belong on the list of teams that could prevent the Tide from rolling to a fourth BCS title in five years. But doing so will require, among all the X’s and O’s, a true defiance of logic.

“We feel like we can compete with any team,” Tigers senior quarterback Tajh Boyd said. “We’re one of the premier teams in the country.”

Fair enough. But the Southeastern Conference has produced seven consecutive national champions. From Clemson’s league, the Atlantic Coast Conference, only Florida State has ever played for the title, and the Seminoles haven’t had a whiff since 2000. For perspective, that FSU loss to Oklahoma came five days after Saban — the greatest coach of his generation — notched his first bowl victory.

Clemson has a fast-rising coach of its own in Dabo Swinney, and a pair of potential All-Americans in Boyd and wide receiver Sammy Watkins. It also has Georgia now and fellow SEC East big boy South Carolina later, not to mention ACC rival FSU. All that and, if necessary, a takedown of Alabama in January? It’s a lot to fathom.

But the task might be even larger for longtime coach Mark Richt, record-setting senior quarterback Aaron Murray, the dominant backfield tandem of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall and the rest of the Bulldogs.

As Richt has said, they gained respect throughout the South by coming within five yards of beating Alabama in the 2012 SEC title game. They actually had an 11-point second-half lead, which alone should blow Notre Dame fans’ minds.

“I think Georgia’s back where it needs to be in terms of national respect,” Murray said. “Now we’ve just got to push the door open.”

Yet there’s the whole logic thing. Talk about a mind-blower: Georgia has No. 8 Clemson,
No. 6 South Carolina and
No. 12 LSU on the schedule — the September schedule, that is. If Alabama could lose a home game in each of its last two championship seasons, the Bulldogs could disappear from the title discussion before temperatures in their neck of the woods dip below the 80s.

That would be a far cry from avenging the loss to Alabama and making it eight consecutive years of glory for the SEC.

Look, Georgia at Clemson is almost as good as a season opener can get. Watch it. Revel in it. Heck, pretend like the elephant isn’t even there.

That’s what Swinney will be doing. The man has national-championship dreams of his own, and who can blame him? He knows firsthand how good that would feel. As a senior in college, Swinney was part of a squad that won it all. When it was over, the wide receiver danced on the field with teammates and their school’s mascot, Big Al.


Twitter: @slgreenberg

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