Chick-fil-A Bowl Preview
Clemson coach Tommy Bowden believes his team is getting closer to living up to the school's championship legacy. Winning 10 games for the first time in 17 years would go a long way toward adding credence to that belief.
In what figures to be a close game featuring two of the nation's stingiest defenses, No. 15 Clemson faces 22nd-ranked Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Bowl at the Georgia Dome on Dec. 31.
Clemson (9-3) rebounded from back-to-back losses to Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech with wins in five of its last six games. That late-season surge left the Tigers one victory shy of their first 10-win season since the 1990 team went 10-2.
This is only the second time Clemson has won nine regular-season games since 1992.
"I think we've finally rounded the corner with getting this program back," Bowden said. "Your championships are more likely to come when you get to that level."
A victory over Auburn (8-4) could also provide some momentum heading into next season for Clemson, which has 18 starters returning from this year's team.
"With what we have coming back, it's a good opportunity to reach that level again," Bowden said.
Bowden is familiar with Auburn, having served as an assistant coach there from 1991-96. He spent two seasons as coach at Tulane before moving to Clemson for the 1999 season.
"We are very excited to play in the 2007 Chick-fil-A Bowl," Bowden said. "There is a lot of history between these two schools dating to the early days of both schools' football programs. Clemson and Auburn take great pride in their football programs and traditions. I know that personally because I have coached at both schools."
Auburn has won 12 straight against Clemson, including a 21-17 victory in the 1998 Chick-fil-A Bowl in the only meeting between the schools since 1971.
That gave Auburn - then coached by Tommy Bowden's brother Terry - a 10-win season. Now, Clemson looks to achieve a 10-win season in the same bowl game a decade later.
Three years removed from a 13-0 record, Auburn's 8-4 regular-season mark is its worst since the 2003 team went 7-5. The Tigers finished second in the SEC's West Division, one game behind LSU.
Plagued by a weak offense all season, Auburn will be without offensive coordinator Al Borges in this game after he resigned his position on Dec. 11 after four seasons.
Auburn scored two or fewer touchdowns in six of its eight SEC games. The Tigers finished 101st in total offense out of 119 major college teams with an average of 327.8 yards per game.
"Al did a good job for us during his tenure and we appreciate everything that he did for Auburn," coach Tommy Tuberville said.
While offense has been an issue all season for Auburn, preventing the opposition from scoring has been much easier. The Tigers were sixth nationally in scoring defense (16.7) and eighth in total defense (298.3).
Junior tackle Pat Sims, senior end Quentin Groves and senior cornerback Patrick Lee were all selected to the All-SEC team.
Sims finished the regular season with 32 solo tackles, 3 1/2 sacks, two forced fumbles and also returned a fumble for a touchdown. Groves had 35 tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles. He shares the school record with 26 career sacks.
Lee had 51 tackles and tied for the team lead in interceptions (4) with Jerraud Powers.
Clemson also boasts an outstanding defense that was sixth in total defense (297.2) and 10th in scoring defense (18.3).
The biggest disparity between the teams is on offense.
While Clemson features a balanced attack that centers around tailbacks James Davis and C.J. Spiller and quarterback Cullen Harper, Auburn had no offensive players make either the first or second All-SEC team.
Harper set 22 school records in his first season as a starter, including 27 touchdown passes. He led the ACC in passing efficiency with a better mark than Boston College star Matt Ryan.
"You don't know how you're going to respond until you actually get out there and do it," Harper said.
Harper threw five TD passes in a game twice, and became the first non-senior quarterback voted offensive captain since 1994. He finished with 2,887 yards and completed 67.0 percent of his passes while throwing only six interceptions.
Auburn quarterback Brandon Cox threw nine touchdown passes and was intercepted 12 times. He was picked off four times in a 45-20 loss at Georgia on Nov. 10.
This will be Clemson's seventh appearance in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. It is 2-4 in the previous six, including a 27-14 win over Tennessee on Jan. 2, 2004.
Auburn has won four of its last five bowl games, including a 17-14 victory over Nebraska in last season's Cotton Bowl.
This will be Auburn's fourth appearance in the Chick-fil-A Bowl and first since 2001. Auburn is 2-1 in three trips to Atlanta with wins against Indiana (1990) and Clemson (1998) and a loss to North Carolina (2001).
by: Staff Writers - Email Us
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