The 11th annual Music City Bowl will feature the Kentucky Wildcats of the SEC taking on the Clemson Tigers of the ACC from Nashville, Tennessee.
Kentucky finished the regular season with a 7-5 record, and all five losses came against SEC opponents. The Wildcats opened the season with a 2-3 mark, but five of their last seven outings resulted in victory but lost the finale against Tennessee. Despite that disappointing ending, Rich Brooks did a tremendous job keeping the Wildcats on track despite numerous injuries. The team won at least seven games for the fourth consecutive season, the first time that has been done at Kentucky in nearly a century, since 1909-12. Also, the club set the school record for consecutive non-conference wins with 18, the nation’s second-longest active streak.
Kentucky figures to have quarterback Mike Hartline available for this game who has been sidelined since October 10th when he injured his knee against South Carolina. In the six games that he has played this season, Hartline has completed 59.4 percent of his passes for 802 yards and 6 touchdowns with 7 interceptions. Morgan Newton has played in Hartline’s absence, and he has connected on 55.4 percent of his attempts for 608 yards with 5 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. But it doesn’t matter who the quarterback is because Randall Cobb is the man. Cobb is an all-around player that has 37 catches for 427 yards and 4 touchdowns and rushed for 537 yards and 10 touchdowns. Derrick Locke leads the team in rushing though with 843 yards and 6 touchdowns. Kentucky is generating 27 ppg and 336.1 total ypg.
Defensively the Wildcats are limiting opponents to 22 ppg on 362.9 total ypg. The Wildcats have allowed 16 rushing scores and 16 passing touchdowns and will be without top linebacker Sam Maxwell cause of shoulder surgery.
Dabo Swinney’s Tigers won the ACC’s Atlantic Division with a 6-2 record and are 8-5 overall. Three of the five losses have come by five or fewer points to a team ranked in the current top-10, proof that the club has been competitive all season.
Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker has guided the Tigers to eight wins this year as the starter, tied for the most among freshman signal callers nationally. He has set freshman records at the school for touchdown passes, passing yards and completions. His favorite target is Second Team All-ACC wideout Jacoby Ford, who has 53 catches, while First Team All-ACC tight end Michael Palmer has 41 grabs, a Clemson record for a tight end.
Still all of those players are complimentary to ALL-SGE-NCAA Football Team member C.J. Spiller, who very well may be the best all-around offensive player in the nation. Spiller, the 2009 ACC Player of the Year, enters bowl season with 7,416 all-purpose yards in his career, third best in NCAA history. He needs 349 yards to become the all-time NCAA leader. He has 50 touchdowns in his career, second only to the 56 accumulated by Florida quarterback Tim Tebow. A threat as a runner, receiver and kick returner.
While Clemson is scoring 31 ppg and gaining 366.5 total ypg, the club is limiting opponents to 21 ppg and 317.2 total ypg. The Tigers are led by Brandon Maye, who has posted 103 total tackles, seven of which have been tackles for loss. Ricky Sapp has 15 tackles for loss to his credit, including five sacks, and Clemson has posted an impressive total of 21 interceptions, helping to overshadow the 19 touchdown passes that the club has allowed. The play against the run has been strong, as foes are averaging just 3.5 yards per carry.
The Wildcats hold an 8-4 series lead over the Tigers, which includes a 28-20 victory in the most recent meeting back in 2006.
PICK: Clemson University Tigers
Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney don’t feel they have to the defend the honor of the Atlantic Coast Conference. The winner will end a lengthy drought between league titles and earn a spot in the Orange Bowl.
Georgia Tech (10-2) lost to struggling Georgia and Clemson (8-4) was trounced by instate rival South Carolina. Before stumbling, the Yellow Jackets and Tigers were two of the hottest teams in the country. Georgia Tech had won eight straight since losing to Miami in September. Clemson was riding a six-game winning streak after losing three of five to start Swinney’s first full season at the helm.
Tech won the regular season meeting 30-27 in Atlanta, kicking two fourth-quarter field goals after blowing a 24-0 lead as Clemson scored 27 consecutive points.
The Yellow Jackets and Tigers are the top two scoring teams in the conference. Georgia Tech is second in the nation in rushing at 305 yards per game, and Clemson’s explosive offense features ACC player of the year C.J. Spiller, who has scored 16 touchdowns – seven rushing, four receiving and five on kick returns.
Georgia Tech’s Jonathan Dwyer and Josh Nesbitt, a distant second to Spiller for conference player of the year, are on pace to become the first teammates in the ACC to rush for more than 1,000 yards since 1993. But after giving up 339 yards on the ground during the loss to Georgia, it will be interesting to see whether the Yellow Jackets can make necessary adjustments to contain Spiller, who’s close to becoming the first player in conference history with 1,000 yards rushing and 500 receiving in the same season.
Boasting two prolific ground gainers in Dwyer 197 carries, 1,236 yards, 12 TDs and Nesbitt 237 carries, 888 yards, 17 TDs, Georgia Tech offense typically batters foes into submission by averaging 5.3 ypc, 305.0 rushing ypg. 43 of the team’s 53 TDs have come on the ground. Nesbitt, Georgia Tech’s quarterback has attempted just 137 passes this season, completing 64 of them for 1,553 yards with nine TDs against only four INTs. Demaryius Thomas has clearly been Nesbitt’s favorite target, as he has 44 catches for 1,077 yards and seven scores.
The Georgia Tech defense is giving up 352.2 total ypg, with 135.7 ypg coming on the ground and 216.6 ypg coming via the pass. The Yellow Jackets have allowed nearly twice as many passing TDs 21 as 11 rushing ones and Brad Jefferson is the team’s leading tackler with 87 stops. Derrick Morgan has been a man possessed along the defensive line, posting 12.5 sacks.
The Clemson offense is every bit as explosive as Georgia Tech’s, but the Tigers prefer a more balanced approach. As a result, the rushing figure comes in at 156.8 ypg and the team generates 204.7 ypg through the air. Clemson is averaging 31 ppg and has reached the end zone 17 times on the ground, 22 times passing and a seven times on returns. Jacoby Ford is the team’s go-to guy down the field, as he has 50 grabs for 703 yards and five TDs. Kyle Parker is Clemson’s quarterback and he has completed 55.3 percent of his passes this season for 2,294 yards, 19 TDs and 10 INTs.
Defensively Brandon Maye is the team’s top tackler, having logged 90 stops while Kavell Conner and Marcus Gilchrist are close behind with 87 and 86. DeAndre McDaniel has eight INTs, one of which he returned for a TD, and Rashard Hall has six picks.
Georgia Tech owns a 48-24-2 advantage in the all-time series with Clemson, and the Yellow Jackets have won the last three meetings, and five of the last six overall.
Georgia Tech shared the ACC crown with Florida State in 1998, however the Yellow Jackets have not won the championship outright since 1990, the year before Clemson won its most recent title.
PICK: Clemson University Tigers