Clemson-Auburn Preview

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney may not ever live down his frenetic,

shouts of celebration caught on national TV moments after defeating

Auburn last season.

He just hopes he gets to embarrass himself again this week.

Clemson and Auburn will open the season Saturday night at the

Georgia Dome. It’s the third straight season the teams have played

– and likely to be the third consecutive time the winner can count

on even bigger things down the road.

Clemson led Auburn 17-0 in 2010 until the home team rallied

behind Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton for a 27-24 overtime win as

part of its national title run.

Clemson came from 21-7 down last fall to stun the defending

champions 38-24 and kickstart its 8-0 start on the way to an

Atlantic Coast Conference title.

”It’s always been special to play Auburn,” said Swinney, an

Alabama graduate who played on Gene Stallings’ 1992 national

champions. ”Every game is huge.”

Swinney showed how much it means during last season’s postgame

celebration – the video’s had more than 53,000 viewings on

YouTube.com – when he shouted there was no better place to end

Auburn’s winning streak than ”Death Valley, South Carolina,

baby.”

A year later, Swinney grins at the memory.

”I’m never going to apologize for celebrating winning,” the

coach said Tuesday. Still, Swinney said when he watched it again

later that day, he thought, ”Oh, geez, I was pretty pumped

up.”

The victory proved a springboard for the young Tigers who

followed up with wins over Florida State and Virginia Tech the next

two weeks. Despite a late-season swoon, Clemson reached the ACC

title game and defeated the Hokies for a second time to win its

first league crown in 20 years.

Beating Auburn ”was big for our confidence to take the next

step,” Swinney said.

Auburn certainly understands the magnitude of the game.

The Tigers were a work in progress when Clemson came to town in

2010. For a while, it looked like Clemson would end the

championship season before it truly got going as it moved in front

17-0 and led by two touchdowns at the half.

In what became a season-long theme, though, Newton rallied

Auburn. Newton’s 78-yard TD pass in the third quarter put Auburn

ahead for the first time at 24-17 and Auburn finally prevailed when

Clemson kicker Chandler Catanzaro missed a 32-yard field goal in

overtime.

”That was an eye-opening game for us because we were able to

win it but I felt like we got physically beat on the line of

scrimmage,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. ”That kind of

catapulted us into understanding what it was really going to take

for us to win this league that year.”

Expect this latest contest to again set the tone for a season in

which both sets of Tigers have questions to answer.

Auburn, without Newton, dropped from 14-0 to 8-5 last fall and

brought plenty of offseason changes. Offensive coordinator Gus

Malzahn left to become Arkansas State’s head coach and Chizik

brought in Steve Loeffler to take over. National championship

defensive coordinator Ted Roof moved to Central Florida and

eventually Penn State in the same position and Auburn hired Brian

VanGorder of the Atlanta Falcons.

Auburn quarterback Kiehl Frazier will make his first start

Saturday night and the backfield won’t include its top rusher the

past two years in Michael Dyer, who left after he was suspended

indefinitely by Chizik for violating team rules.

Auburn defensive end Dee Ford said the rivalry with Clemson has

deepened the past two years, making it more critical than ever to

succeed on Saturday. ”We consider this an away game that we have

to win,” he said. ”We have a lot to prove.”

So does Clemson.

The Tigers have a new man in charge of defense, too, hiring

Brent Venables from Oklahoma soon after the Tigers’ record-setting

Orange Bowl debacle in which they lost 70-33 to West Virginia.

Venables is antsy to finally see what his players have picked up

through spring and summer workouts, yet is wary of facing Auburn’s

firepower in week one.

”You wish you had a I-AA to start off with,” Venables

said.

Clemson’s record-breaking offense from a year ago – the Tigers

posted the most yards and points in its long history – will be

minus All-American receiver Sammy Watkins, serving the first of a

two-game suspension for an offseason drug arrest.

Clemson center Dalton Freeman knows facing Auburn early is a

perfect opportunity to build on last year’s championship season. If

they can pull it off again, Freeman’s prepared for another Swinney

celebration.

”When you win, you need to celebrate, you need to have a good

time,” Freeman said. ”A lot of coaches don’t wear their emotions

on their sleeve, but that’s what it’s all about.”

AP Sports Writer John Zenor in Auburn, Ala., contributed to this

report.