Back in the 1970s and early 1980s, before every college football game was televised by some network, folks in the South could listen to SEC games on the old “Pick O’ Dixie” network. Someone got the bright idea that there were enough football fans to merit sending out games that were already being broadcast to other markets. For instance, fans in Knoxville could listen to the Alabama-Auburn game or the Georgia-South Carolina contest when the Tennessee broadcast was over. I spent many fall nights listening to SEC football and hearing many of the legendary “voices” of the SEC calling play-by-play. (Jack Cristal, Larry Munson, Cawood Ledford to name a few.)
When the lawsuit brought by Georgia opened the television contracts that were bound by the NCAA in 1982, the “Pick O’ Dixie” network became a thing of the past. If the network was still alive and kicking in 2013, there is no doubt that everyone would want to listen to this weekend’s season opener between Georgia and Clemson.
The game will be televised to a national audience on ABC Saturday night, and even the ESPN Game Day Crew will be on hand early Saturday morning. The game features a pair of top 10-ranked teams, (Georgia #5 and Clemson #8) and decent tickets are being sold for $200-$300 each. Fans from both schools have been chomping at the bit for this one since last season ended. Both teams have National Championship aspirations as the season begins, but the loser of this game simply must shoot for something much less.
Georgia is the pre-season favorite to win the SEC East. The Bulldogs have perhaps the nation’s best all-around offensive unit, led by senior quarterback Aaron Murray. The ‘Dawgs offense is potent, though not at the rapid-fire pace of an Oregon, or even Clemson. Murray has nine total receivers returning from last year, and when the Bulldogs decide to run the football, Murray will simply hand the ball off to Todd Gurley or Keith Marshall. There are a lot of questions on the Georgia defense, and that could play right into the hands of the fast-paced Tiger offense.
Clemson has had great success lately as Coach Dabo Swinney enters his fifth season. He and his staff have recruited about as well as any team has over that five-year period, and, as quarterback Taj Boyd enters his senior season, this could be the “Year of The Tiger.” DeAndre “Newt” Hopkins left early for the NFL draft, but junior receiver Sammy Watkins is back as he looks to get back to the form he showed in his freshman season. When he is on his game, there is no other player in college football as exciting. The biggest weakness for Clemson in 2012 was the defense, but as Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables enters his second season, the Tigers are expecting to be greatly improved.
The betting line on the game is as close as anyone might imagine. I’ve seen Georgia by a 1.5 margin, and I’ve seen the same margin for Clemson. It is extremely hard, however, for teams to go to “Death Valley” and come out with a win, as the Tigers are a perfect 14-0 at home for the past two seasons.
It’s the SEC versus the ACC and in most any other case, I would pick the SEC team to win. That’s not the case this time. Clemson 34, Georgia 31. It will be a real war! One that the “Pick O’ Dixie would be very proud of.
Randy Smith has been covering sports in Tennessee for the last 43 years. After leaving WRCB-TV in 2009, he has continued his broadcasting career as a free-lance play-by-play announcer. He is also an author and is a media concepts teacher at Brainerd High School in Chattanooga. He is also the Head Softball Coach at Brainerd. Randy Smith's career has included a 17-year stint as scoreboard host and pre-game talk show host on the widely regarded "Vol Network". He has also done play by play of more than 500 college football, basketball, baseball and softball games on ESPN, ESPN2, Fox Sports, CSS and Tennessee Pay Per View telecasts. He was selected as "Tennessee's Best Sports Talk Show Host" in 1998 by the Associated Press. He has won other major awards including, "Best Sports Story" in Tennessee and his "Friday Night Football" shows on WRCB-TV twice won "Best Sports Talk Show In Tennessee" awards. He has also been the host of "Inside Lee University Basketball" on CSS for the past 11 years. He was the first television broadcaster to ever be elected to the "Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame", in 2003. Randy and his wife, Shelia, reside in Hixson. They have two married children (Christi and Chris Perry; Davey and Alison Smith). They also have three grandchildren (Coleman, Boone, and DellaMae).