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Countdown to Kickoff: Kent State at No. 5 Clemson

The defending National Champion Clemson Tigers open the 2017 season on Saturday in Death Valley when they take on Kent State at noon. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN.

Saturday will mark the first time a Clemson team has run down the hill and into the Valley as the defending national champions without a loss. The 1982 team followed the 1981 National Championship season with a loss at Georgia on the opening weekend of 1982.

About Kent State: Kent State coach Paul Haynes will not coach against No. 5 Clemson on Saturday. The school announced in a release earlier this week he is taking a leave of absence because of medical reasons. Haynes is expected to miss two or three weeks. Offensive coordinator Don Treadwell will serve as head coach during Haynes’ absence.

About Kent State’s offense: Nick Holley returns to quarterback the Golden Flashes after being moved to the signal-caller position against Akron last year. In that game, he rushed for 117 yards, while throwing for 285. For the year Holley ran for 868 yards and passed for 920. He did suffer a knee injury late in the season and did not go through spring practice. Tailback Justin Rankin rushed for 511 yards as a freshman despite battling through some injuries as well. He also led the team in catches (28) and receiving yards (335). Senior wide receiver Kris White is back after suffering a season-ending leg injury in last year’s opener. They are also expecting junior college transfer Donte Ross to make an instant impact at wide receiver.

About Kent State’s defense: Six of the top seven tacklers from last season have moved on, but eight players who started the final game of 2016 return for the Golden Flashes. The defense was strong against the pass, allowing less than 200 yards per game, and has a pair of All-MAC cornerbacks returning in seniors Jerrell Foster and Demetrius Monday. Foster had 11 passes broken up and three interceptions. The top six defensive backs are all seniors and juniors and will present a challenge for first-time Clemson starter Kelly Bryant at quarterback.

Records: First game of the season for both teams

Series record: First meeting

Stat worth noting: This will be Clemson’s first game against Kent State, but its fifth game against a school in the Mid-American Conference. Clemson is 3-0 against Ball State and 1-0 vs. Central Michigan. Clemson defeated Ball State in 1992 (24-10), in 2002 (30-7) and 2012 (52-27). The Central Michigan win took place in 2007 by a 70-14 score. So Clemson has outscored the MAC Conference 176-58 in head-to-head meetings.

Second stat worth noting: The Tigers are 90-23-8 (.777), regard­less of site, in their first game in the previous 121 seasons. Even though this is the 122 season of Clemson football, Clemson has had just 116 home openers in its history because five years Clemson did not play a game at home. In the 116-home openers, Clemson has a 91-17-8 record (.819) against 37 different opponents. Clemson has won 13 straight home openers with the last loss coming in Dabo Swinney’s first year as an assistant coach at Clemson, a 30-0 loss to Georgia. Clemson has won 25 of its last 32 season-openers. That includes a 12-5 record the last 17 years when Clemson has played its most challenging season-openers.

Third stat worth noting: Dabo Swinney is 7-1 in his career in season opening games with the only loss coming at Georgia to open the 2014 season. Swin­ney’s opening wins include two over Auburn and one over Georgia. The season opening victory over Georgia came at home in 2013 when the Bulldogs were ranked fifth in the nation entering the game.

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