ATHENS, Ga. -- The drive from Clemson to Georgia only takes about an hour. Natural rivals, one could assume.
So how come players from both schools get such puzzled looks when asked about the history of the series?
"I really didn't know about it at first," Georgia linebacker Chris Clemons said. "Lately, I've seen some old game clips, so I know more about it. ... I'm just approaching it as a game we really need to win."
Clemons can be excused for being a bit out of touch. After all, he was only 13 years old the last time Clemson met the Bulldogs.
No. 8 Georgia, beginning a season of huge expectations, plays host to Clemson on Saturday night in the renewal of a rivalry that hasn't been played since 1995.
That's a shame, too, because these two neighbors played some classics during their annual meetings of the 1980s.
Georgia defeated the Tigers 20-16 in 1980 despite being more than doubled up in total yards, 351-157. The Bulldogs went on to an unbeaten season and the national championship.
The following year, Clemson forced a record nine turnovers and defeated Georgia 13-3, ending the Bulldogs' 15-game winning streak and propelling the Tigers to their first national title.
The 1982 game matched the last two national champs, with Georgia winning 13-7 on a blocked field goal.
A year later, both teams missed 60-yard field goal attempts on the final two plays of the game, settling for a 16-16 tie. In 1984, Georgia's Kevin Butler made a 60-yarder with 11 seconds remaining, giving the Bulldogs a 26-23 victory.
Clemson's David Treadwell avenged that heartbreaking defeat, kicking a 46-yarder on the last play of the 1986 game for a 31-28 victory. The next season, Treadwell did it again, making a 21-yarder with two seconds left to give the Tigers a 21-20 triumph.
After that, the teams played off and on until 1995, when Georgia won 19-17 at Clemson. The teams haven't met since, the rivalry falling victim to scheduling difficulties since the schools are in different leagues. Georgia is a member of the Southeastern Conference, Clemson the Atlantic Coast Conference.
An extra game tacked onto the schedule allowed the teams to meet again.
"I never really followed it," said Georgia quarterback D.J. Shockley, who was 12 when the schools last met. "I've been looking up a few things about it. During two-a-days, they showed us a little bit of rivalry tapes from back in the days. We watched it as a team so we'd know what to expect."
Clemson coach Tommy Bowden faced the same task trying to educate his players, who get more fired up about facing state rival South Carolina and conference foe Florida State.
"If any of our players had played in a game against them, it might have significance," Bowden said. "But the last time we played them was 1995, and they are not that familiar with it."
Still, the proximity of the schools gives the game a bit of the old feeling.
"It will be real emotional for both teams because we both recruit actively in each other's states and a lot of the players know each other," Bowden said. "We have a lot of players (19, including six starters) from Georgia. It will be more emotional in that way than as a rivalry.
"Now go up in the stands," he added jokingly, "and there will be some serious fighting going on."
Georgia should be an impassioned team, no matter who's lining up on the other side. The Bulldogs, who went 8-4 in Mark Richt's first season as coach, are expected to challenge for their first SEC title in 20 years.
The offense has eight returning starters, including SEC freshman of the year David Greene at quarterback, explosive receivers Fred Gibson and Terrence Edwards, and a senior-dominated line. Running back Musa Smith appears to be back at 100 percent, as well, after struggling through an injury plagued 2001 season.
The defense has a few more questions marks, especially up front and at the two safety positions, but linebacker Boss Bailey can help cover for those shortcomings. An amazing physical specimen at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, he's been timed at 4.31 seconds in the 40 and set school record by jumping 46 inches straight up during a preseason drill.
"I'm trying to lead this team to a championship," Bailey said.
Clemson is hoping to bounce back from a disappointing 7-5 season that left Bowden on somewhat shaky ground. The son of Bobby Bowden is only 22-14 in his first three seasons with the Tigers.
There are a couple of new starters at key positions. Willie Simmons takes over at quarterback for Woody Dantzler, while Bernard Rambert moves in at tailback after backing up Travis Zachery the last three seasons.
Opening on the road against a Top 10 opponent is quite an initiation.
"We've never opened against a team like this," Rambert said. "If we lose, it could send the whole season downhill. I don't think that's going to happen, but it can be pretty bad."
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