No. 4 Clemson saw a run of ACC championships and College Football Playoff appearances that lasted six seasons come to an end in 2021. However, even in that "down year" the Tigers finished with a six-game winning streak down the stretch to finish with 10 wins for the 11th consecutive season. The standard of excellence under coach Dabo Swinney is why the Tigers have entered 2022 right back up in the position of playoff contention, even after undergoing the most significant single-season staff turnover since Swinney was prompted to head coach.
Defensive coordinator Brent Venables was hired away to replace Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma, and offensive coordinator Tony Elliott got the job at Virginia replacing Bronco Mendenhall. Swinney lost a defensive line coach with Venables' exit as well, and an offensive line coach took an off-field role as part of the larger shake up. Though for all the changes in titles and responsibilities, Clemson mostly stuck with internal promotions to fill vacancies and piece together the next era of Tigers football.
Monday night's national stage provides the setting for Clemson's debut in this new era, as Swinney himself has said "the torch has been passed" to a new crew of players and coaches. The foe for this stage is a familiar one -- the Tigers' annual cross-division rival, Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets have their own motivations heading into the 2022 season, which is a crucial one for coach Geoff Collins, setting up a great conclusion to the five-day weekend that is college football's Week 1 over Labor Day.
Clemson vs. Georgia Tech: Need to know
DJU looks for a bounce back: Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei was a five-star prospect coming out of high school, and as a true freshman in 2020 he starred in relief for Trevor Lawrence when the Tigers' starter was sidelined with Covid. Last season was a jarring disappointment, however, as Uiagalelei threw just nine touchdowns to 10 interceptions and finished last in the ACC in passing efficiency. He's dropped some weight in the offseason and won the starting job heading into this opener, which is a much more significant note now that five-star freshman Cade Klubnik has arrived to present some real competition. Monday night against Georgia Tech will the be first of many data points for the comparison between these two Clemson quarterbacks, and if DJU wants to grab hold of the QB1 responsibilities, he can do so with a form that's closer to that impressive 2020 debut.
Collins enters a pivotal year for Georgia Tech: There was always going to be a longer leash for Collins after he took over the program from Paul Johnson and vowed to move the Yellow Jackets away from the option offense. Doing so would take rebuilding the roster with multiple recruiting classes, and so when the wins didn't pile up early there wasn't much panic around Atlanta. But this is the fourth season for Collins and Georgia Tech has still not won more than three games in a season with him at the helm. Collins hit the transfer portal for some instant impact help to the depth chart, but he also lost his best offensive weapon when running back Jahmyr Gibbs transferred to Alabama. The Clemson game itself is not going to determine whether Geoff Collins is on the hot seat at season's end, but how the team competes against the ACC favorites will be a sign of where they fall in the pecking order and what to expect moving forward.
Clemson's D should be among the nation's best: One reason AP voters and preseason prognosticators across the country put Clemson in the top five nationally despite the poor quarterback play in 2021 is because of a strong defense that should remain salty even after the loss of Venables. Clemson returns six players with starting experience along the defensive line, has blue-chip talent in the back seven, and as a group should be one of the five best defensive units in the country. Defensive tackle Bryan Bresee, defensive end Myles Murphy and linebacker Trenton Simpson all earned first-team All-ACC honors in the preseason balloting, as well as honors. That group is expected to lead the Tigers out of the gate as the 2022 Clemson offense finds its footing here in the season opener.
How to watch Clemson vs. Georgia Tech live
Date: Monday, Sept. 5 | Time: 8 p.m. ET
Location: Mercedes-Benz Stadium -- Atlanta
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Clemson vs. Georgia Tech prediction, picks
Georgia Tech gave Clemson the scare of a potential upset last season, falling short in a lowing scoring 14-8 grinder of.a game in Death Valley. I think there will be more points in this year's affair, but not enough scored by the Yellow Jackets for this game to hit the over. Clemson is more than happy to ride its elite defense and solid rushing attack to comfortable wins, and that game script comes in well under 51 points. Prediction: Under 51
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