There is still a lot of time between now and Sept. 4 when Clemson renews its rivalry with Georgia in the 2021 Duke’s Mayo Classic at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
Clemson looks to replace the bulk of its offensive production that earned it a sixth consecutive College Football Playoff appearance in 2020.
On the other hand, Georgia hopes to build on its late season success and New Year’s Six Peach Bowl win over Cincinnati despite the loss of key pieces on defense.
Here is your way-too-early preview of the matchup between two new look powerhouses that will kick off the 2021 season in 232 days.
Clemson and Georgia look to switch strengths in 2021 as the Bulldogs return a wealth of talent on offense and the Tigers seek to find an identity behind new faces.
The Tigers lose Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne, Amari Rodgers and Cornell Powell at the skill positions and 71 percent of their offensive productions. Those four players totaled 61.3 percent of Clemson’s touchdowns in 2020.
But D.J. Uiagalelei will be at the helm of the unit and looked impressive in his two starts against Boston College and Notre Dame during Lawrence’s absence due to COVID-19.
In those two starts he completed 59-of-85 passes for 781 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. Uiagalelei also brings a new element to the offensive strategy with the quarterback power and he ran for a pair of touchdowns this past year, despite a lingering shoulder injury.
At the skill positions the Tigers benefit from the return of young stars in E.J. Williams, Joseph Ngata and Frank Ladson at wide receiver, as well as the news Thursday night on the return of Justyn Ross.
The running back room will face a stiff competition with Lyn-J Dixon, Chez Mellusi and Darien Rencher, as well as freshman Will Shipley.
On the offensive line Clemson loses Jackson Carman but returns the rest of its starters up front, which should add consistency to a unit that struggled at times in 2020.
The Bulldogs return a wealth of talent on the offensive side of the ball, highlighted by quarterback J.T. Daniels who transferred from Southern Cal and took control of the offense in the middle of the season. Daniels completed 80-of-119 passes for 1,231 yards, 10 touchdowns and two interceptions in just four games.
At tailback Georgia returns Zamir White who ran 144 times for 779 yards and 11 touchdowns as well as James Cook who added three touchdowns and over 300 yards.
The Bulldogs also return wide receiver George Pickens who caught 36 passes for 513 yards and six touchdowns in eight games. They also benefit from the return of Darnell Washington who caught seven passes for 166 yards but showed promise in limited action.
The biggest question mark on offense for Georgia is in the trenches where they lost two key starters in Ben Cleveland and Ty Hill.
As of Thursday, Clemson is set to return 10 starters on offense for the upcoming season which should make it a formidable force.
The Tigers are highlighted by the return of sixth-year linebacker James Skalski, a second-team All-ACC selection in 2020, he recorded 44 tackles, 3.5 tackles-for-loss, 1.5 sacks, three pass breakups and three quarterback pressures this past year. Baylon Spector also looks to continue his success along with Mike Jones.
Clemson did lose defensive linemen Nyles Pinckney and Jordan Williams on the defensive line to the transfer portal. But, it returns starters Myles Murphy, Bryan Bresee, K.J. Henry and Tyler Davis.
In the secondary, the Tigers return Derion Kendrick, Andrew Booth, Sheridan Jones and Lannden Zanders. Safety Nolan Turner, as of Thursday morning, has still not announced whether he will enter the NFL Draft or return for another season.
Georgia will have to replace several key pieces on a salty defense from last season. The front seven returns key pieces but its secondary needs an overhaul moving into a new year.
The Bulldogs lose outside linebackers Azeez Ojulari and Jermaine Johnson who accounted for 47 tackles and 12.5 sacks. But Georgia returns Adam Anderson, who added 6.5 sacks in 2020 and 2.5 in the Peach Bowl.
Georgia looks to find an identity in the secondary after Tyrique Stevenson entered the transfer portal, who is expected to start after four starts and appearances in all 10 games last year. The Bulldogs also lose Mark Webb, Richard LeCounte, Tyson Campbell, Eric Stokes and D.J. Daniel.
There is still a lot of time between now and the kickoff of the Duke’s Mayo Classic in September, but fans have plenty to look forward too it in the offseason.