No. 14 Clemson vs. Auburn at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta
Kickoff: Saturday, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Spread: Clemson by 3.5.
Watchability: This is the third year in a row that these teams have met. Auburn won 27-24 in overtime during its national championship run back in 2010, and Clemson won 38-24 last year. The last two meetings have been intense and jumpstarted the season for the team that ended up winning. It is not the most high-profile match-up on Saturday night, but with both teams dealing with suspensions and new schemes, it might be the most intriguing.
Shining Stars: Clemson: QB Tajh Boyd (3,828 passing yards, 38 total TDs last year) will operate the up-tempo offense of second year OC Chad Morris. RB Andre Ellington (1,178 yards, 11 TDs last year) is the ACC’s second leading returning rusher. Senior DE Malliciah Goodman (59 tackles, 2 sacks last year) has to step up and fill the void left by departed DE Andre Branch. Auburn: DE Corey Lemonier (6-4, 246 pounds) had 9.5 sacks last year, second among returning players in the SEC. TE Philip Lutzenkirchen (238 receiving yards, 7 TDs last year) is a preseason All-SEC pick and is a primary target in the red zone. Sophomore QB Kiehl Frazier won the starting job and will run the offense for new OC Scot Loeffler. Frazier was the team’s third leading rusher (327 yards, 3 TDs) last year.
Who could steal the show: Clemson: WR DeAndre Hopkins will be Boyd’s go-to receiver Saturday with WR Sammy Watkins suspended two games due to a May drug arrest. Hopkins could be the No. 1 receiver on a lot of teams. He caught 72 passes for 978 yards and 5 TDs last year. Sophomore LB Stephone Anthony will get the start in the middle. He can be a star in the making. Auburn: RB Onterio McCalebb is entering his senior year at Auburn, and he is now the starter. McCalebb (641 rushing yards, 344 receiving yards last year) is versatile coming out of the backfield and figures to get plenty of touches. He had 109 rushing yards and 53 receiving yards with 2 TDs in the team’s 43-24 win over Virginia last year in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
You going? Ranking the road trip: This is the fifth year of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff in Atlanta, and each game has featured two quality teams and a spirited crowd. This year figures to be no different. The parking lots surrounding the Georgia Dome will be filled with tailgaters from both sides, and it will be a great time in a city that loves its college football.
Magic number for Clemson: 9. The number of interceptions QB Tajh Boyd threw in the team’s final six games last year, a stretch where Clemson went 2-4. He threw multiple interceptions in three of the team’s four losses. Boyd threw just three interceptions during the team’s 8-0 start.
Magic number for Auburn: 624. The number of yards Clemson’s offense racked up against Auburn’s defense last year. In January, Auburn brought in new DC Brian VanGorder, who spent the last four seasons as the DC of the Atlanta Falcons. He’ll be charged with improving an Auburn defense that finished No. 81 nationally in total defense (408 yards per game) in 2011.
The game comes down to: Which team has picked up the scheme of its new defensive coordinator fastest and which inexperienced offensive line plays better? Auburn is dealing with VanGorder’s new scheme while Clemson brought in DC Brent Venables from Oklahoma to run its defense. Auburn and Clemson both have inexperienced offensive lines with each team starting one senior. Auburn will be without starting sophomore C Reese Dismukes, who was suspended this week following a public intoxication arrest. The team that adjusts to the new defensive scheme the fastest and gets better offensive line play will win the game.
Prediction: Clemson 34, Auburn 24
For more up-to-the-minute news and analysis from ACC bloggers Shawn Krest and Sean Bielawski, follow @CBSSportsACC.