2008 Gator Bowl Preview
Nebraska (8-4, 5-3 Big XII) vs. Clemson (7-5, 4-4 ACC)
January 1st, 2009 @ 1:00 PM (EST) – CBS – Jacksonville, Florida
The Gator Bowl certainly won’t struggle to sell out this year when Nebraska and Clemson come to town with their massive fanbases. While both teams have a lot in common when it comes to rabid fan support, their on-field performances have been drastically different. Nebraska brought back former defensive coordinator Bo Pelini as head coach and led the Cornhuskers to a bowl game after only winning five games last season while Clemson fell far short of preseason expectations and fired Coach Tommy Bowden at midseason.
Clemson’s season has been filled with turmoil. They entered the regular season ranked at #9 but were quickly dispatched by Alabama on the first Saturday of the season. From there, the criticism and pressure only increased until Bowden’s resignation. Assistant coach Dabo Sweeney was put in charge and led the Tigers to a solid 4-1 finish to surge to a bowl game, including a win over archrival South Carolina. Clemson has a number of talented tailbacks but the Thunder and Lightning combination of C.J. Spiller and James Davis has been somewhat ineffective this season compared to their past production. That said, the duo has combined for over 1,500 yards and 18 Touchdowns. Clemson is also struggling with some turmoil as their defensive coordinator resigned after the regular season when Sweeney was named the permanent coach.
Nebraska fans were thrilled when Bo Pelini was named head coach last year. Pelini, who many Husker fans felt should have been hired four years earlier, was popular during his tenure as defensive coordinator and guided LSU’s defense to a National Championship immediately before starting in Lincoln. The Huskers struggled early, starting 3-3, but then proceeded to win five of their last six games. Senior quarterback Joe Ganz was the driving force behind their surge, passing for 12 Touchdowns and only 4 interceptions in the season’s second half. That firepower was needed, however, as Nebraska had a lot of trouble slowing down the opposition in the high-flying Big XII, allowing 30.5 points per game during the last six games.
This game will be a contrast of styles. Clemson will look to use their talented tailbacks to establish a running game while Nebraska will look to air it out. In a year where Big XII offenses scored a ridiculous number of points, this game will help answer whether their offenses were really that good or their defenses were really that bad. Adding to the intrigue is the fact that Clemson’s defense only gave up an average of 17 points per game down the stretch. This game is going to come down to how well Clemson’s defense performs with a new defensive coordinator and history has show that teams have trouble performing well when change comes on short notice. That alone makes me lean towards the Huskers. I think Nebraska’s offense is going to move the ball well through the air and Clemson will find themselves trying to play catch up. In the end, I like Bo Pelini to move his Nebraska bowl record to 2-0 (he won the 2003 Alamo Bowl as interim coach) with a big win over Clemson in the Gator Bowl.
Gator Bowl Pick: Nebraska 34 - Clemson 24
by Matt Baxendell
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