Originally created 09/01/02

Opening games are meant to be games not gimmes



ATHENS, Ga. - Dub it the SEC-ACC Kickoff Classic.

Call it the Peach Belt Border War.

Declare it the SAT score tiebreaker between the 49th and 50th ranked states.

Whatever motivation suits your fancy, just play it.

Clemson vs. Georgia is exactly the way college football season should begin. Saturday night's primetime season opener at sold-out Sanford Stadium - a 31-28 Bulldog victory - was as good as it gets.

Don't let another generation of players fail to understand the meaning of a Georgia-Clemson rivalry. Don't make the fans wait until the NCAA augments the schedule again to renew old flames.

Clemson and Georgia should play each other every year. Not just that, they should play each other on opening day every year.

The last time these tightknit neighbors met in a season opener in 1982, they were the two most recent NCAA champions. Georgia won and was so inspired it went on to win its very last SEC title. Clemson was so angered by its only loss that it just had to win the ACC title to feel better about itself.

That game had meaning. Saturday night's game had meaning - certainly more meaning than last year's openers for the two schools against Arkansas State and Central Florida.

The only people who want to open seasons against So-and-so States and Mid-major Directional Universities are coaches.

We'd rather see real games against real teams with real consequences. All Georgia fans got out of last year's Arkansas State kickoff was the realization that the Bulldogs could beat a bad team in a glorified preseason game.

Leave the preseason to the NFL. This is the South. Let's play real ball.

Even Georgia coach Mark Richt admits facing Clemson is frightfully more entertaining than hosting a patsy.

"There's a big difference this year and last year in just the opponent," Richt said this week. "When you looked at tape of Arkansas State last year and looked at us, you felt like we had a pretty good shot of winning if we don't blow it. This year we're playing a team that has played in an awful lot of big games and recruits the same players you recruit."

Athletic directors will give you all sorts of viable reasons for why powerhouse schools such as Georgia and Clemson can't afford to add each other to an already crowded schedule.

Big schools must have six home games to satisfy the finances and the fans. Georgia plays Florida in Jacksonville, Fla., every year, meaning only three conference games are at Sanford Stadium.

Solution: move Georgia-Florida to the home-and-home rotation. Sure it might cost a little revenue generated by the so-called World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, but the return of competitive balance in the series would be worth the cost. And Florida can add Miami to its permanent opponent roster and everybody leaves happy.

"I understand the six home games and the financial considerations," said former Georgia quarterback Buck Belue. "But when you start playing football in 1897, you should just play football. Some things should not be about the money."

Amen.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.