Now What for Clemson and Georgia? A Look Back at Top-10 Openers

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After the rare top-10 season opener, what’s in store for the Tigers and Bulldogs?

After the rare top-10 season opener, what’s in store for the Tigers and Bulldogs?

Clemson fans may still be partying in the streets, and Georgia fans may still be sulking even into the middle of the week after a wild season opener. But there’s still a long way to go before the rare top-10 Week 1 matchup is put into its proper context.

Since the formation of the BCS in 1998, only six season openers have involved two top-10 teams as then-No. 8 Clemson’s 38-35 win over No. 5 Georgia did on Saturday.

Though the top-10 matchup in the first week is rare, a top-10 team starting 0-1 is not. At least one top-10 team has lost its opener each season since 2002. All Georgia has to do is look at the resumes of those teams to know the Bulldogs are at a crossroads.

Preseason No. 3 Oregon in 2011 lost its opener to LSU 40-27 but went on to win the Pac-12. In 2010, preseason No. 10 Virginia Tech lost its opener to Boise State 33-30, but — after a detour losing to James Madison — the Hokies went on to win the ACC.

And as for Clemson, a top-10 team that defeated another preseason top-10 team in the opener, good things may be on the way. The last two teams to accomplish that feat, Alabama in 2012 and LSU in 2011, played for national championships.

Here’s a complete list of top-10 teams that lost their openers and how they fared. Some quick observations follow below.

PRESEASON TOP-10 TEAMS THAT LOST THEIR SEASON OPENERS SINCE 1998

*denotes team that also lost its second game

YearLosing TeamWinning TeamLosing team's final record (bowl)
2013No. 5 GeorgiaNo. 8 Clemson 
2012No. 8 MichiganNo. 2 Alabama8-5, 6-2 Big Ten (Outback)
2011No. 3 OregonNo. 4 LSU12-2, 8-1 Pac-12 (Rose)
2010No. 10 Virginia Tech*No. 3 Boise State11-3, 8-0 ACC (Orange)
2009No. 3 OklahomaNo. 20 BYU8-5, 5-3 Big 12 (Sun)
2008No. 9 ClemsonNo. 24 Alabama7-6, 4-4 ACC (Gator)
2007No. 5 Michigan*Appalachian State9-4, 6-2 Big Ten (Capitol One)
2006No. 9 CalNo. 23 Tennessee10-3, 7-2 Pac-10 (Holiday)
2005No. 7 OklahomaTCU8-4, 6-2 Big 12 (Holiday)
 No. 9 MiamiNo. 14 Florida State9-3, 6-2 ACC (Peach)
2004No. 4 Florida StateNo. 5 Miami9-3, 6-2 ACC (Gator)
2003No. 6 Auburn*No. 8 USC8-5, 5-3 SEC (Music City)
2002No. 7 ColoradoColorado State9-5, 7-1 Big 12 (Alamo)
2000No. 3 AlabamaUCLA3-8, 3-5 SEC
1999No. 4 ArizonaNo. 3 Penn State6-6, 3-5 Pac-10
 No. 9 Ohio StateNo. 12 Miami6-6, 3-5 Big Ten
1998No. 5 Michigan*No. 22 Notre Dame10-3, 7-1 Big Ten (Citrus)
 No. 8 Arizona State*No. 18 Washington5-6, 4-4 Pac-10


• Georgia is the SEC's first preseason top-10 team to lose its opener since 2003 Auburn when the Tigers lost to eventual AP national champion USC.

• The average record for preseason top-10 teams who lost their season openers is 9-4 overall and 6.2-1.8 in conference since 2002. All 12 of those teams made bowl games, but only two reached BCS games — 2011 Oregon and 2010 Virginia Tech.

• Top-10 teams that lost in Week 1 during the BCS era are 12-5 in their second games of the season, but none turned around to face a second top-10 team as Georgia will against No. 6 South Carolina. Three of the teams listed above faced ranked teams after their top-10 loss: 2005 Miami lost to Florida State, but turned around to beat No. 20 Clemson, 1999 Ohio State lost to Miami but defeated No. 14 TCU in Game 2, and 1998 Michigan lost to Notre Dame and defeated No. 19 Syracuse the following week.

• Of the 17 preseason top-10 teams that lost their openers, only six returned to the top-10 sometime during the season. Only one of those teams finished in the top 10: Oregon finished the 2011 season ranked fourth in the AP, only one spot lower than where the Ducks started in the preseason before losing to LSU.

• The top-five teams that lost their openers actually fared worse than teams ranked between sixth and 10th in the preseason. Top-five teams that lost in Week 1 went 57-31 (.648). Teams ranked sixth through 10th went 81-37 (.686). The top-five teams, though, are dragged down by the 2000 Alabama team that started the season No. 3 but finished 3-8. Without that outlier on their overall record, the top-five teams are 54-23 (.701).

• The best example of a second week hangover in a top-10 game situation is 2010 Virginia Tech. The 10th-ranked Hokies lost to No. 3 Boise State before losing to James Madison 21-16 the following week.

• In an ironic twist of fate, one of the more recent preseason top-10 teams to lose its opener was Clemson in 2008. The Tigers lost to No. 24 Alabama to start that season, which was the beginning of the end for Tommy Bowden. The Tigers fired Bowden midseason and replaced him with assistant Dabo Swinney, who led Clemson in its win over Georgia on Saturday.

• It’s worth noting the last time Georgia started 0-2, the Bulldogs won the SEC East. In 2011, Georgia started the season with a 35-21 loss to Boise State in Atlanta and a 45-42 loss to South Carolina at home before reeling off 10 consecutive wins.

• Now what of the top-10 teams that defeated another top-10 team in their opener? It’s happened six times with, in general, good results. Two teams preseason top-10 teams that began the season with a top-10 win ended up winning the national championship, 2012 Alabama and 2003 USC.

PRESEASON TOP-10 TEAMS DEFEATING ANOTHER TOP-10 TEAM IN WEEK 1 SINCE 1998

*denotes national championship team

YearWinning TeamLosing TeamWinning Team's final record (bowl)
2012No. 2 Alabama*No. 8 Michigan13-1, 7-1 SEC (BCS Championship Game)
2011No. 4 LSUNo. 3 Oregon13-1, 8-0 SEC (BCS Championship Game)
2010No. 3 Boise StateNo. 10 Virginia Tech12-1, 7-1 WAC (MAACO)
2004No. 5 MiamiNo. 4 Florida State9-4, 5-3 SEC (Peach)
2003No. 8 USC*No. 6 Auburn12-1, 7-1 Pac-10 (Rose)
1999No. 3 Penn StateNo. 4 Arizona10-3, 5-3 Big Ten (Alamo)

 

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