Pieces in place for Clemson-Georgia to become rivalry again

Andy Harrison/Georgia athletics

Clemson and Georgia renew hostilities in the College Football Playoff.

Expect to read that headline soon. Very soon. And possibly often.

In 2014, when the playoff ushered in a new era of determining college football’s national champion, an easily anticipated consequence of the system was that a select few programs would dominate. Look at the history of playoffs at lower levels of competition: The same schools annually bubble to the top almost as consistently as Old Faithful’s daily eruptions.

The Clemson-Georgia series once boiled about the same temperature as water from a geyser, but it’s been at a low simmer for the past 15 seasons.

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After playing 30 times between 1962 and 2003, these rivals have played only twice since. The Bulldogs hold a 42-18-4 overall record against the Tigers. Georgia went 6-0-1 in the 1960s, 6-3 in the 1970s, 4-3-1 in the 1980s, 3-1 in the 1990s and swept games in 2002 and ’03. Most recently, the teams split a home and home series – Clemson winning 38-35 in Death Valley in 2013 and Georgia returning the favor 45-21 at Sanford Stadium in 2014.

The boiling point of the rivalry took place from 1980 to 1982.

In 1980, the Bulldogs went in 2-0 behind the stunning play of freshman running back Herschel Walker. He spurred Georgia to a 16-15 road win at Tennessee in the season opener, then exploded for 145 yards in a 42-0 home thrashing of No. 17 Texas A&M the following Saturday. The A&M win included a 76-yard touchdown burst, and such breathtaking long runs soon became the Walker trademark.

Clemson arrived at Sanford Stadium 1-0 after downing Rice 19-3 the previous week. There was festering tension between the programs. The Tigers finished runners-up in the protracted recruitment of Walker, which ended on Easter in the spring of 1980, and there were also plenty of players filling the rosters of both squads who’d crossed borders to play for the other side. Clemson entered the game intent on shutting down Walker, and while the Tigers prevented any long touchdown runs, Walker still gutted out 121 yards, including a key carry late.

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