2009 Gator Bowl Preview
by Trevor Whenham - 12/19/2008
Clemson (7-5) vs. Nebraska (8-4)
Conference matchup: ACC vs. Big 12
Date: Thursday, Jan. 1, 1:00 p.m.
Location: Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, Jacksonville, Florida
Spread: Clemson -3; total 56
The two teams here are in decidedly different places. It was a year that Clemson fans would certainly like to forget, and one that has finally shown enough promise in Nebraska for their fans to think that the glory days they remember from the distant past may not be gone for good. Clemson was supposed to make a BCS bowl after starting the season as the No. 9-ranked hope of the ACC. Now they are relegated to the game made famous when Woody Hayes punched an opposing player in 1978.
The Gator Bowl dates back to 1946. Clemson has visited Jacksonville eight previous times, winning four of those contests. Nebraska is making their first trip to the game. The game won't be a grudge match, as these two programs have never before met on the field. Still, it's not a wonder that the Gator Bowl wanted these teams - both travel extremely well, so a sellout is likely.
The game opened with Clemson favored by one, and is now climbing as high as the key number of three. At that price, action is evenly split between the two teams, so it seems unlikely to climb any higher. The total opened at 55, and has now jumped to 56. Nebraska has gone over in their last four games, and Clemson has gone over in three of their last five, so the movement isn't surprising or unexpected.
That's not the coach you started with
Tommy Bowden was supposed to lead Clemson to the Promised Land. Instead, all he did was prove yet again that the Bowden coaching genes skipped a generation. After a 3-3 start that featured two completely meaningless wins and an 0-4 ATS record, Bowden was fired. This is where it gets strange. The replacement was Dabo Swinney, a 39-year-old guy who had never been a coordinator, never mind a coach. He'd spent six years on Bowden's staff, though, and Bowden suggested him as a replacement before he left. It sounds improbable, but so far it has worked. Swinney finished the season 4-1, including wins over Boston College and rival South Carolina. Swinney did so well that he was offered a five-year contract after the regular season. It hasn't been all wine and roses, though. Swinney fired offensive coordinator Rob Spence when he took the job, and took over play calling himself. Defensive coordinator Vic Koenning resigned after Swinney was given the full time job when Swinney wouldn't guarantee him employment beyond the bowl. Charlie Harbison, who just left Mississippi State in the Sylvester Croom purge, took over on an interim basis. The team has played well for Swinney, but it would have every excuse to quit at this point.
Bo Pelini took over a team in disarray this year, and for the first half of the year it looked like the disarray was going to stick around for a while. They started out just 3-3, with the low point being a blowout loss to Missouri at home. Starting in the second half of the season, though, you could see Pelini's message getting through, and the confidence of the team grew every day. They closed out the season 5-1. There is still work to do - they were far from competitive against Oklahoma - but there is more hope now than there ever was under Bill Callahan. This is Pellini's first year as head coach, but he has a chance to move to 2-0 in bowls as Husker head coach - he was the interim boss for the 2003 Alamo Bowl.
Spiller stepping up
Perhaps no player has thrived under the Swinney regime more than running back C.J. Spiller. He has only played in five of Swinney's six games, but he has made the most of them. He has had three of his five biggest rushing performances of the year in the last five games. More significantly, though, he has become a serious receiving threat. He has had two 100-yard receiving game under Swinney - the only two of his career. He had nine catches in the first six games, and 21 in his last five. Nebraska will have to focus on stopping Spiller. That may not have been the case at the start of the year. The change in Spiller's use also fits well with what Nebraska has to offer - the Huskers are a solid 37th against the run, but a lousy 91st against the pass.
Trends of Note
The Tigers are 1-4 ATS in their last five bowl games, and 1-4 ATS in the last five neutral site games. They are 0-4 ATS in their last four bowls as favorites.
Nebraska is 2-11 ATS in their last 13 games following a straight-up win. They are 2-5 ATS in their last seven non-conference games, and 3-8 ATS in their last 11 as an underdog.
The under is 9-1 in Clemson's last 10 games as a favorite, and 4-0 in the last four bowl games. The over is 5-1 for Nebraska in the last six games as an underdog, and 4-1 in the last five against teams with winning records.