Clemson Football: Final thoughts on the Gator Bowl

I picked Clemson Football to beat Kentucky in the Gator Bowl, but I would be lying if I said I had a lot of confidence in that pick, and it has little to do with the Wildcats.

Clemson Rally Cats dance during the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl Clemson University football pep rally.
Clemson Rally Cats dance during the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl Clemson University football pep rally. / Ken Ruinard / staff / USA TODAY NETWORK
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Clemson Football will play their final game of the 2023 season today in the Gator Bowl against Kentucky. The game starts at noon and will be broadcast on ESPN and available for streaming in the ESPN app.

I predicted yesterday that Clemson would edge out Kentucky in overtime in a low-scoring game. I can’t say I am incredibly confident in that pick, however, and it has very little to do with Kentucky.

Kentucky is not a bad team, but they don’t have a wonderful resume. They beat Louisville in the final game of the season, but I can’t say Louisville has looked very good lately.

If you think there are a lot of Clemson fans asking “How in the world did we lose to Miami and NC State?” you should check out how many Notre Dame fans are asking “How in the world did we lose to Louisville?”.

Their other decent wins were Florida and Mississippi State, both of whom finished with a losing record at 5-7. Outside of those victories, the Wildcats beat Ball State, Eastern Kentucky, Akron, and Vanderbilt. Oh, and they lost to South Carolina.

And I still wouldn’t be shocked if they beat Clemson because I have become so used to Clemson’s offense being underwhelming.

Don't get me wrong - the defense will have to step up today. They are missing key players in Jeremiah Trotter, Ruke Orhorhoro, and Nate Wiggins. There is talent filling in those spots, but it is young talent. The cornerback group is down to three scholarship players due to opt-outs, injuries and transfers.

Despite the challenges for the defense, the cold hard truth is that I lack confidence in the Tigers offense, and it isn’t a lack of confidence in their ceiling. We have seen enough to know the ceiling is high for this group, but we have also seen enough to know that usually there come nowhere near that ceiling.

Cade Klubnik can be very good. Jake Briningstool can be a game changer. The offensive line can get the job done. The wide receivers can step up. The question is "Will they?"

They played well against Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, and North Carolina before stumbling on the road against South Carolina.

That might be the biggest question: how will they respond in this neutral site environment? Outside of their performance in Syracuse, this offense has been bad away from Death Valley. Have they been bad because it isn't home, or because it was the other team's field? Can they put it together in a neutral environment?

If it had not been for the hire of Garrett Riley, there would not have been much to be excited about for Clemson last offseason because the Orange Bowl was so disappointing. The Tigers need a good performance today to create positive momentum for the group that will jump into spring ball in a couple of months.