A week from today Nebraska and Clemson step on the field for only the second time in history and the first time in 27 years. The first was the 1982 Orange Bowl, a game that saw Clemson come away with it's only National Championship.
Although Nebraska and Clemson play in vastly different conferences I still feel that it is noteworthy to do a unit by unit comparison leading up to the game. Today I will concentrate on each offense and in coming days I will compare the defenses and special teams and make a prediction.
The Nebraska offense is lead by a very efficient and effective senior quarterback in Joe Ganz. Ganz comes into the final game of his Nebraska career as the 14th rated passer in the country, having completed 69 percent of his passes, good for 299 yards a game and 23 TDs to 10 INTs.
In the Big 12 Ganz is probably the 5th-6th best quarterback in the league. If, Ganz were playing in the ACC I am sure he would be the best quarterback in the conference. In Ganz, Clemson will be playing against the best quarterback they have seen all year.
It also needs to be noted that Ganz is a very mobile quarterback, one that can pick up yards with his feet and also make throws on the run outside of the pocket.
Leading the way up front for Ganz and the Nebraska offense is a very strong offensive line. They are lead on the right side by 6'5" 330 lb right guard Matt Slauson and 6'7" 315 lb right tackle Lydon Murtha.
Nebraska has a running back by committee approach with Roy Helu, Marlon Lucky, and Quentin Castille carrying the pigskin. Helu, with a 6.7 yd per carry average and just over 800 yards on the year, has emerged as the bread and butter running back for Nebraska of late, but Lucky and Castille will still get their touches.
Marlon Lucky and Roy Helu are both very capable receivers out of the backfield and in pass protection. Castille is the short yardage hammer, but does have a propensity to put the ball on the ground at times.
At the wide receiver position Nebraska is lead by two record setting seniors in Nate Swift and Todd Peterson. Swift has recently become Nebraska's all-time career leader in catches and Peterson has also entered the top five of the same list.
Although neither guy is what you would call a game breaking burner, Swift does have better than average speed and he will likely find a place to play on Sundays. Both Peterson and Swift have great hands and have the ability to get open, especially against zone defenses. Niles Paul and Menelik Holt are the third and fourth wide receivers respectively and will see plenty of playing time.
An X-factor for Nebraska might be the tight end position where they have a pair in Mike McNeil and Drew Young that can really stretch the defense vertically down the seam. McNeil has averaged almost 15 yards a catch on his 29 receptions, good for six touchdowns.
All in all the Nebraska offense is one that can beat teams with the pass or the run. The Nebraska offense averages 458 yards per game both running and passing and averages 36 points per game.
Nebraska also comes into the game leading the country in time of possession, keeping the ball away from the other team for an average of 34:00 minutes a game. A side note to this stat is the fact that Nebraska has converted 48 percent of it's third down opportunities in 2008.
Clemson comes to the Gator Bowl with an offense that is averaging just under 26 points a game. They put up 339 yards per game both running and passing.
The offensive line, early in the season, struggled a bit in providing running lanes and seemed prone to allowing pressure and sacks on Cullen Harper in passing situations. During the second half of the season these issues seem to righted themselves somewhat.
The Clemson offense is lead by a Lighting and Thunder running back tandem of C.J. Spiller, aka Lighting and James Davis, aka Thunder. Reports are that Spiller is a guy with sub 4.3 speed that once outside can take it the distance. Spiller is also one of the best kickoff return guys in the country, averaging 27 yards a return.
Harper is completing 63 percent of his passes with 12 TDs and 11 INTs. Although, it doesn't appear that Harper is a quarterback that will beat a team by throwing the ball all over the field, don't be fooled. Clemson does have some speed at wide receiver, most notably lanky 6'5" Aaron Kelly, and if the opportunity arises they will look to throw the ball down the field.
Clemson's bread is buttered by the running game on offense. Expect them to run the ball more than they throw it. But in doing so they hope to lull the defense to sleep, get the safeties creeping closer to the line of scrimmage, and then they will try a few home run throws over the top of a defense.
Comparing the two offenses I give Nebraska a fairly sizable advantage over Clemson. Nebraska has a solid senior qb who plays within the offense and is surrounded by very effective play makers at all of the skill positions.