Bowl Breakdown: Music City

Publish date:

Clemson (8-5) vs. Kentucky (7-5)Dec. 27, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Reason to watch: This is C.J. Spiller's last chance to wow on the college stage. It's not a question of if the ACC player of the year will reach pay dirt against Kentucky, but of how. The only player nationwide to record a touchdown in each game this season, Spiller scored five different ways: 11 rushing, four receiving, four on kick returns, one on a punt return and one passing. He racked up plenty of yardage, too, ranking fourth nationally in all-purpose yards with 194 per game. The speedster posted his top three all-purpose yardage games against some of Clemson's fiercest competition (310 against Miami, 234 against Georgia Tech, 227 against TCU), so don't expect him to shrink on the big stage. That's bad news for a Kentucky defense that struggled all season against the run (183.1 rush yards per game, 100th nationally) and will be without one of its best defensive playmakers, linebacker Sam Maxwell (shoulder).

Keep an eye on: Kentucky's versatile sophomore, Randall Cobb. Spiller won't be the only do-it-all threat suiting up in Nashville. Cobb doesn't possess Spiller's game-breaking speed, but he impacts the game in as many ways. Quarterback Mike Hartline, sidelined since an Oct. 10 knee injury, could see some playing time, but Morgan Newton will start. With the inexperienced freshman at QB, the Wildcats will need to rely on Cobb's big play ability to keep pace offensively with the Tigers. Like Spiller, Cobb makes his presence felt on special teams, but his real value comes as a go-to receiver and a runner out of the wildcat formation, where he's averaging 6.4 yards per carry.

Did you know: Clemson is trying to avoid its fourth straight bowl loss, while Kentucky is aiming for its fourth consecutive bowl win, something the school has never achieved. Rich Brooks and the Wildcats will attempt to make history in familiar circumstances -- they began the bowl win streak against Clemson, in the Music City Bowl, four years ago.

Final analysis: Injuries have limited Kentucky defensively all season, and that luck hasn't improved come bowl time. But though the Wildcats have struggled against the run, they've found ways to win. Clemson, on the other hand, consistently received outstanding performances from Spiller, but failed to capitalize at times (see the 39-34 ACC title-game loss to Georgia Tech on a night when Spiller delivered a whopping 233 rush yards and four scores). And though both teams had their sights set higher than the Music City Bowl, Clemson's the team that really dropped the ball. While the Tigers sulk over letting an Orange Bowl berth slip through their claws, the Wildcats will give their all to make program history.

The pick: Kentucky 27, Clemson 24

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