By Ryan of The Sportmeisters
The NCAA post-season kicks off December 19th , with 33 games being played in a three week span. Seniors will get their last hurrah, and teams will attempt to end their season on the winning side, in the hopes of improving recruiting that follows afterwords. The Sportmeisters will preview each of the 33 games that lie ahead, and provide our predictions as well. Let’s get to it!
Music City Bowl, December 27th, 8:30 PM, Nashville, TN
Clemson (8-5) vs. Kentucky (7-5)
About Clemson : After losing three of their first five games, Clemson, behind Coach Dabo Swinney (in his first full year), bounced back, and bounced back big. The Tigers reeled off six straight victories to clinch the ACC Atlantic Division Title. However, they have slipped at the end, losing to rival South Carolina, and against Georgia Tech for the second time in the ACC Championship.
Despite less than stellar rankings, Clemson had a gluttony of weapons on the offense. First was all-everything Senior RB C.J. Spiller. The ACC player of the year had 2512 all purpose yards and 18 touchdowns, even while nursing toe and hip injuries. Secondly was the Freshman QB Kyle Parker. Parker started off slow, allowing teams to get pressure on him and keep Clemson one-dimensional. However, he rebounded, throwing 13 of his 19 touchdowns during the winning streak, including three in a shootout against Miami. His top target was Senior WR Jacoby Ford, who caught 53 balls for 735 yards and five touchdowns.
While the offense, especially Spiller, got all the glory, it was the defense that kept Clemson in the ACC race much of the year. They held opponents to a mere 317.15 yards a game (22nd in NCAA FBS), and allowed a mere 21 points a game (27th in NCAA FBS). Junior S DeAndre McDaniel leads an aggressive defense with 85 tackles, two sacks, eight interceptions (one for touchdown), and a forced fumble. Freshman DB Rashard Hall also had six interceptions, as part of Clemson’s ACC leading 21 interceptions and +7 turnover margin. Clemson will use their aggressive defense in the hopes for turnovers, but even a three and out leaves the punt squad with the decision to kick to Ford or Spiller, who will then come back and lead the offense down the field.
About Kentucky : A 2-0 start was quickly marred by a three game losing streak. The Wildcats did bounce back, winning three in a row late to get to 7-4, before losing a rivalry game to Tennessee to end their regular season.
Kentucky has dealt with a number of injuries, and it starts right at the top. Junior QB Mike Hartline (802 yards, six touchdowns, seven interceptions) was injured in the fifth game of the year. This made way for Freshman QB Morgan Newton. Using his limited knowledge and inexperience, Newton threw for 608 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions while filling in. The real reason for Kentucky’s success however, was the 21st ranked running game (193.25 yards). Junior RB Derrick Locke and Sophomore QB/RB Randall Cobb kept defenses on their toes, while rushing for a combined 1381 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Defensively, the Wildcats probably got the most showcase when they injured UF QB Tim Tebow. But this squad dealt with a ton of problems on its own. Senior DE Jeremy Jarmon was suspended, and Senior All-American CB Trevard Lindley has not been at 100% since the fifth game of the year. Nevertheless, they still held teams to 179.75 passing yards a game (18th in NCAA FBS). Senior LB Sam Maxwell led the team with 81 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and six interceptions (one for touchdown), but will miss the game after undergoing shoulder surgery. The burden of leading the Wildcat defense will fall on Senior LB Micah Johnson (100 tackles) and the now healthy Lindley (29 tackles, one interception).
The Matchup : Clemson is 15-16, riding a three game losing streak during their current six bowl game appearance streak.
Kentucky is 8-5, having won three in a row during a school record four game bowl eligible streak. Both teams kicked off their streak in the 2006 Music City Bowl, which Kentucky won 28-20.
The question of this game is how many yards will Spiller get. He’s fourth in the nation with 192.92 all-purpose yards per game, and Kentucky is 100th in rushing defense (183.17 yards per game). With the injuries and suspensions Kentucky has had to deal with, it’s going to be tough for them to hold down Spiller. Should they find a way, Parker has developed himself quite well, and should be able to find an open Ford downfield.
On the opposite side of the ball, Clemson gives up 150.31 yards a game (69th ), which has Locke and Cobb just licking their lips. Kentucky is mum on who their QB will be, leaving the door open for a Hartline return. Expect Kentucky to run mostly, attempting to neutralize the aggressive Clemson secondary, and eat up precious clock, leaving Spiller and Ford on the bench.
The Prediction : Clemson has the weapons, and snaps the losing streak, 49-21.