76F Memorial Stadium, Clemson, SC
With another five yards on one play, it might have been Georgia that entered this season as reigning BCS champion instead of an SEC rival.
The fifth-ranked Bulldogs will try to get this season's title hunt off to a flying start by spoiling No. 8 Clemson's attempt at history Saturday night.
Georgia finished with 12 wins in 2012, its most in 10 years, but the then-No. 3 Bulldogs fell just short in the SEC title game. Aaron Murray led an 80-yard drive in the final 1:08 but his pass to Chris Conley on the game's final play was just shy of the end zone in a 32-28 loss to then-No. 2 Alabama, which would go on to win a second straight BCS crown.
"It taught us that we're right there as a team," Murray said. "I think we're a lot more confident that we can compete in those big-time games. We've got to keep working and keep staying hungry.
"I think Georgia's back where in needs to be in terms of national respect. Now we've just got to push the door open."
That door could be a heavy one for the Bulldogs with three matchups against top-15 teams in the first four games.
"We're trying to be in mid-season form by Game 1. A lot of things have to be done to get us ready for that gauntlet. We know it's coming. We'll be ready," coach Mark Richt said.
That stretch begins with a dangerous Clemson squad led by record-setting quarterback Tajh Boyd.
Boyd broke his own single-season school marks by throwing for 3,896 yards and 36 touchdowns while leading the Tigers to an 11-2 mark, their most victories since going 12-0 while winning the 1981 national title.
The 2012 ACC player of the year finished seventh in the country in total offense and is his team's top returning rusher after Andre Ellington graduated. Boyd will also be missing his top target from last year in DeAndre Hopkins, but Sammy Watkins is hoping to bounce back after falling far short of matching his production from his freshman season.
Watkins had 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns in an All-American season in 2011, but he finished with 708 yards and three TDs last year while missing two games due to a suspension and one to injury.
Clemson will be looking to pull off an unprecedented feat in the opener. The Tigers knocked off then-No. 9 LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl last season and can become the first nonconference opponent to win back-to-back games against top-10 SEC teams.
"It's a lot about putting our best foot forward and I feel like we have the team to do that," Boyd said. "I feel like we've got the people to make special things happen."
Clemson will be looking to shore up a pass defense that ranked 71st nationally with 240.3 yards allowed per game.
The Tigers should be a little healthier in the secondary after Martin Jenkins, Darius Robinson and Bashaud Breeland were forced to miss time with injuries in 2012.
"Everybody knows that's the area of our team that's got to improve the most," coach Dabo Swinney said.
That secondary would appear to be facing a stiff challenge in a Georgia offense that returns most of its starters and four of its top six receivers from a year ago. The Bulldogs are also getting back their two top rushers in Todd Gurley (1,385 yards) and Keith Marshall (759), and all of their offensive linemen.
The concern for Georgia is replenishing a defense that had seven players taken in the NFL draft, including first-rounders Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree.
"As time goes on, players are just going to continue to get better and better, so sometimes it's good to be thrown in the fire," defensive end Garrison Smith said. "We're going to be all right."
The Bulldogs will take an inexperienced secondary into their matchup with Boyd after safety Josh Harvey-Clemons was given a one-game suspension for an undisclosed violation of team rules.
Cornerback Damian Swann is the only returning starter who will play Saturday.
"It's definitely a big challenge," Richt said. "Their offense is one of the best in America and Tajh Boyd is obviously one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Playing at their place is going to be tough."
Georgia holds a 41-17-4 edge over Clemson. It hasn't faced the Tigers since earning its fifth straight win in the series in 2003.