Gator Bowl Preview
Jacksonville, FL - A season filled with high expectations for Clemson resulted in a slow start and an unexpected coaching change. Still, the Tigers find themselves playing in a bowl game on New Year's Day.
Clemson can cap a tumultuous season with a win over Nebraska in the Gator Bowl in a matchup involving teams that finished strong.
Both teams come into this contest in Jacksonville on three-game winning streaks. Clemson (7-5) also was victorious in four of its last five games, while Nebraska (8-4) took five of its final six.
Oddsmakers from Online Sportsbook Sportsbook.com have made Clemson –3 point spread favorites for the Gator Bowl against Nebraska. Current College Fooball Public Betting Information shows that 52% of more than 2,062 bets for this game have been placed on the Nebraska +3.
"The way they finished and the way we finished, that's probably why they wanted to put these two teams together," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.
The Tigers will make a record ninth Gator Bowl appearance, and their first since 2001. Given the hype coming into the season, though, Clemson may have thought it would be playing in another part of Florida for the national championship.
Entering its 10th season under Tommy Bowden, Clemson was ranked ninth in the Top 25 and considered a clear-cut favorite to win the ACC. The Tigers, though, started with a 34-10 loss to Alabama that dropped them out of the poll.
After winning three straight - including two non-conference routs - all seemed well for Bowden's team. Lackluster losses to Maryland and Wake Forest, however, and the inability to get much production from quarterback Cullen Harper and the backfield of James Davis and C.J. Spiller resulted in Bowden resigning on Oct. 13 and being replaced by Swinney.
"There's a lot of things still on the table for this team," Swinney said after being given the job on an interim basis.
Clemson narrowly lost to Georgia Tech in Swinney's debut, but averaged 347.0 yards during double-digit wins over Duke, Virginia and South Carolina to close the regular season.
Swinney, who will return as coach next season, said the players' resiliency was the reason for Clemson being able to play in the postseason.
"It is a great honor for us and a great tribute to our team for what they have accomplished over the last seven weeks," he said. "When we were a 3-4 football team, we could only dream about a New Year's Day bowl and for that to be a reality is a very special thing.
"You have to give all the credit to the players because they got it done. Playing on New Year's Day goes back to the players. We talked about it on Oct. 13 and set our goals, and this was one of them."
It's not yet known which quarterback will start for Clemson. Freshman Willy Korn had surgery earlier this month on his throwing shoulder and is undergoing rehabilitation.
In six games, Korn was 26-of-38 for 216 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Harper, a senior, threw for 2,395 yards with 11 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 12 games. That was a huge drop from last season, when Harper fell just short of 3,000 yards passing with 27 touchdowns and six picks.
Though he had 11 touchdowns, Davis finished with only 725 rushing yards after running for more than 1,000 each of the past two seasons. Spiller had 612 yards with seven rushing scores in 11 games.
Aaron Kelly is the Tigers' top receiver (61 catches, 648 yards), followed by Jacoby Ford (50, 598). Those two along with Spiller and Michael Palmer lead Clemson with three receiving TDs each.
Nebraska, in its first season under Bo Pelini, finds itself in the Gator Bowl for the first time. This will be the Cornhuskers' 45th bowl appearance, and first in Florida since beating Tennessee in the 1998 Orange Bowl for the national championship.
Pelini, the former LSU defensive coordinator, said Nebraska is headed in the right direction after four dismal seasons under Bill Callahan.
"We wanted to make progress," Pelini said. "We feel we made some progress - not as far as we wanted to go, as far as the record is concerned, but it gives us an opportunity to get one more win."
As interim coach in place of Frank Solich in 2003, Pelini guided Nebraska to a 17-3 win over Michigan State in the Alamo Bowl.
The Huskers followed a season-opening three-game winning streak with three straight losses, two against ranked foes Missouri and Texas Tech. Nebraska's lone loss in its final six games was to Big 12 champion Oklahoma in Norman.
Led by senior quarterback Joe Ganz, Nebraska scored 141 points in its final three games. Ganz completed 71.6 percent of his passes for 823 yards with seven touchdowns and two interceptions in wins over Kansas, Kansas State and Colorado.
In a conference that includes Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford of Oklahoma, Heisman finalist Colt McCoy of Texas, former finalist Chase Daniel of Missouri and Texas Tech's Graham Harrell, it's easy to overlook Ganz. He completed nearly 70 percent of his passes this season for 3,332 yards with 23 touchdowns.
Nate Swift and Mike McNeill were on the receiving end of most of Ganz's passes. Swift led the team with 60 catches for 909 yards and nine TDs, while McNeill had 29 receptions - six for touchdowns.
On the ground, the Huskers were led by Roy Helu (804 yards) and Marlon Lucky (517), who each had seven scores. Quentin Castille added six and Ganz five.
That helped Nebraska finish in the top 20 in the nation in scoring with 36.2 points per game. Pelini's squad will be tested by Clemson's defense, which was 10th in the nation allowing an average of 16.6 points.
Clemson and Nebraska have met before in a bowl game. The Tigers wrapped up a 12-0 season and won the 1981 national championship with a 22-15 victory over the Huskers in the Orange Bowl.
Gator Bowl Key Player Injuries:
[2nd QB] Willy Korn is %27?%27 - Shoulder - 12/07/08
[Backup QB] Kyle Parker is out indefinitely. - Wrist - 11/13/08
[OG] Barry Humphries is expected to miss remainder of the season. - ACL -
[DT] Jamie Cumbie likely to miss rest of season - Wrist - 09/04/08
[DE] Ricky Sapp is expected to miss the rest of the season. - Knee - 11/24
[DE] Barry Turner out for the season. - Leg - 09/06/08
[DT] Kevin Dixon has been dismissed from the team. - Disciplinary - 08/07/
[LB] Phillip Dillard is probable. - Ankle - 12/10/08
[LB] Cody Glenn is out indefinitely. - Suspension - 11/11/08
[CB] Anthony Blue is out indefinitely - Knee - 08/30/08
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Posted: 12/16/08 7:27PM ET