Clemson Football takes on the Tennessee Volunteers in the Orange Bowl on December 30th.
Clemson fans are excited and I am no different. I have already started to ponder this matchup between Top 10 teams.
I have approached this game thinking that Clemson would likely have an advantage for a few reasons. I think Clemson’s offense responded well to Cade Klubnik in the ACC Championship, and I expect that to continue in the Orange Bowl.
Meanwhile, Hendon Hooker is out due to injury. Tennessee’s backup, Joe Milton, is not bad, but he’s also not great. There is a reason why he was beaten out in Knoxville by Hooker and at Michigan before that. Milton’s reputation is that he is big and strong, and can throw the ball a mile but has accuracy issues. That does sound like another quarterback I have been watching for a couple of years now.
Tennessee’s offensive coordinator Alex Golesh has taken the head coaching job at South Florida, and my understanding is he will not coach in the Orange Bowl. I am not sure that hurts the Volunteers significantly because Josh Heupel is hands-on with the offense, but I doubt it is an advantage for Rocky Top.
Both sides will have opt-outs. Myles Murphy will skip the game for Clemson, but considering the depth Clemson has at defensive end, the Tigers shouldn’t be left out to dry.
Meanwhile, two of the wide receivers that Milton planned to throw to down the field, Jalin Hyatt and Cedric Tillman, are opting out for the Volunteers. My gut tells me this will be more impactful to Tennessee than Clemson’s absences will be to them.
Right now, oddsmakers have Clemson as a touchdown favorite, which is in line with my thinking. I decided to see what they are saying nationally.
Eddie Timanus of USA Today appears to have read my mail. His logic is in step with mine. He and his colleagues who are making picks for the game have unanimously selected Clemson for the win.
Read this and let it sink in: Dan Wolken picked Clemson to win the Orange Bowl.
I was a little surprised that most of the rest of the talking heads are on Tennessee for this game.
Chip Patterson from the Cover 3 Podcast took Tennessee plus the points because of 1) the number of players for Clemson who entered the portal and 2) Tennessee is bought into finishing the season strong, while Clemson won’t be motivated because they aren’t in the playoff (he took Tennessee to cover, not necessarily to win). He noted that Tom Fornelli was taking Tennessee plus the points as well.
247Sports Brad Crawford and Chris Hummer both picked Tennessee plus the points. Hummer picked Clemson to win close and Crawford picked Tennessee to win outright (not shocking). Crawford acknowledges Golesh’s absence and then simply says Tennessee wants it more. Hummer says that Tennessee minus Hooker is still better than Clemson.
Joe Tansey of Bleacher Report picked Tennessee to win, citing absences in Clemson’s defense. He does presume that Brian Bresee will opt out and miss the game alongside Murphy and Trenton Simpson.
Lucas Ross on Youtube picks Tennessee 34-31. He likes Milton to have a big game. He thinks the Vols have a better offense.
It is important to note that no one I saw thinks either team runs away with this one. Everyone I read or heard said both teams were very good. I did think some of their logic was odd, however.
Some people, like Patterson and Fornelli, have been calling for more Cade Klubnik all season. Now that Klubnik is starting, they are favoring Tennessee.
There was only one player who hit the portal who was a primary contributor for Clemson in 2022, and that was DJ Uiagalelei. DJ would have been a backup at best in the Orange Bowl had he not entered the portal. The Clemson portal entry that was the biggest surprise was a guy that people thought would be a contributor in 2023, but he was a reserve in 2022.
The reasons some are giving to doubt Clemson Football are head-scratchers
Patterson must have been a little out of touch with how far down the depth chart guys like Kobe Pace and Dacari Collins had slipped. Dacari hasn’t even played since the first month of the season.
I guess people expecting Clemson to be ho-hum about a non-playoff bowl game don’t remember the Tigers showed up ready to play in the Cheez-It Bowl last year, their first non-CFP bowl game since 2014. It was, in fact, their opponents, the Iowa State Cyclones, who looked like they didn’t want to be there.
I guess they also missed how energized the Tigers became when Cade Klubnik entered the ACC Championship game against North Carolina.
As I mentioned earlier, both teams will have absences due to opt-outs or injuries, but both teams appear to have guys to step in.
The supporting reason for favoring the Vols that has me scratching my head the most is the belief that Milton will have a big game against the Tigers. I can only assume this is based on Tennessee’s bludgeoning of Vanderbilt 56-0.
In that game, Milton was 11-21 for 147 yards. Of Tennessee’s eight touchdowns, only one came from a reception. The Vols scored just as many touchdowns on punt returns as they did on the arm of Milton.
We are still two weeks away from the Orange Bowl, so there will be more predictions to come, but so far most of the picks are that Tennessee will win and/or cover because of a quarterback that was beaten for the job in 2021, Clemson players leaving for the transfer portal who barely played and a lack of motivation from the Tigers that didn’t exist in the 2021 Cheez-It Bowl.
Mmmkay. I do wonder if any of these people looked up where Tennessee’s pass defense ranked this year and took that into account when making their picks.
Spoiler alert: it’s worse than North Carolina’s.