2009 Music City Bowl Odds and Predictions
by Matt Severance - 12/22/2009
Are you tired of watching the Dallas Cowboys, who seem to be on national television every week in the NFL? I only ask because you have a football alternative to Sunday night's Cowboys-Redskins game this week, and that's the Music City Bowl in Nashville between Kentucky (7-5, 6-6 ATS) and Clemson (8-5, 8-5 ATS).
If you need a reason to watch (or bet on) the bowl game, do it because it's C.J. Spiller's final college game. Spiller and former USC star Reggie Bush are the only college players to accumulate more than 3,000 yards rushing, 1,000 yards receiving, 1,500 yards on kickoff returns and 500 yards on punt returns in their careers.
Spiller has an NCAA-record seven kickoff returns for touchdowns in his career, including four this season. The ACC Player of the Year also rushed for 1,145 yards and 11 TDs and caught 33 passes for 445 yards and four touchdowns. Yet he wasn't a Heisman finalist.
Clemson has lost three bowl games in a row, and that streak started with a 28-20 loss to Kentucky in the 2006 Music City Bowl. The Wildcats have won three bowl games in a row, and that streak also started in the '06 game. This is their fourth Music City Bowl in the past 10 years.
Both teams enter on a down note, but much more so for Clemson. The Tigers lost their state battle with South Carolina in the regular-season finale and then were beaten by Georgia Tech in the ACC title game with a spot in the Orange Bowl on the line. So going from a spot in the big-money Orange Bowl in Miami to the Music City Bowl in Nashville (nothing against Nashville, but come on!) might be a tad of a motivational problem. Still, Spiller no doubt would like to end his stellar career on a high note and prove something to all those Heisman voters. Kentucky lost its regular-season finale to Tennessee in overtime. UK has basketball fever, so anything the football team does will be overlooked anyways.
UK would seem to be in major trouble here because it ranks just 100th against the rush, allowing better than 183 yards per game. The double whammy is that UK is one of the nation's worst passing teams (142.8 ypg), while Clemson has a very good pass defense that also had 21 interceptions.
Kentucky can counter Spiller with two very good all-purpose players of its own. WR Randall Cobb ran for 537 yards and 10 touchdowns when he operated out of the Kentucky version of the Wildcat, and he led the team in receiving with 37 catches for 427 yards and four scores. He averaged 13.5 yards per punt return and 26.5 yards per kickoff return and has scored 15 of UK's 41 total touchdowns. RB Derrick Locke rushed for 844 yards and six TDs, caught 25 passes for 254 yards and two touchdowns and returned 19 kickoffs for 549 yards and a score. Locke finished the season No. 2 in the SEC in all-purpose yards, while Cobb was third.
Freshman QB Morgan Newton will make his eighth consecutive start for the Wildcats. Junior Mike Hartline opened the season as the starter but has been out since Oct. 10 because of a knee injury. However, he has been practicing so he could play some. Newton is 62-for-112 passing for 608 yards and five scores.
Don't look for UK to pass much with Newton's inexperience and the excellent Clemson defensive line and secondary. Plus, the Tigers have allowed a combined 73 points and 556 rushing yards in consecutive losses.
Line Value and Music City Bowl Odds
The Tigers are currently seven-point favorites, but that has been jockeying back and forth from 7.5 frequently. Needless to say, that's an important half point. The total is at 52 and that opened about a half point higher at most books.
Kentucky has been surprisingly good in non-conference games the past few years, going 9-2-1 ATS in its past 12.
Clemson is just 1-6 ATS in its past seven against the ACC.
Music City Bowl Predictions
That half point is everything. Reportedly Clemson has sold only 4,000 of its allotted tickets, so it sure seems like the fans don't much care about this bowl. Even some of the players are saying things like this: "It's definitely not easy to put the (ACC) championship (game) behind you," which is courtesy of Clemson defensive tackle Jarvis Jenkins.
There's no doubt in my mind that Clemson is the better team. But Kentucky won at Auburn this year for the first time since 1961 and at Georgia for the first time since 1977. And SEC teams have won the first three conference matchups under the current Music City Bowl contract with the ACC. So take UK, but wait for the 7.5.
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