Tonight’s Orange Bowl has the chance to produce one of the most orange-covered stadiums in history as the Tennessee Volunteers will square off with the Clemson Tigers. We’ll preview this marquee match-up before getting into my best bet for the game.
One of the most exciting teams to watch in college football this season was the Tennessee Volunteers. The Vols averaged 45.7 points and 523.7 yards per game which both ranked first in the country and led to them finishing with a 10-2 record.
The team taking the field today for the Vols will not be the same as the last week of the regular season, as both starting wide receivers Jalin Hyatt and Cedric Tillman have opted out of tonight’s game to prepare for the NFL draft. Hyatt finished the season with 1,267 yards and 15 touchdowns, so today’s starting quarterback Joe Milton will need to rely on the Vols' other weapons.
Defensively the Vols will be without linebacker Jeremy Banks who racked up 53 tackles this season. Aside from Banks, the Vols will have most of their starting defense for the game. Tennessee allowed an average of 23.5 points per game but struggled with limiting opponents' passing games this season, allowing an average of 284 passing yards per game.
The inability to limit the passing game is good news for Clemson freshman quarterback Cade Klubnik who has officially taken the reigns as the starter for the Tigers. Fans watched the transition to Klubnik in the ACC championship game as he took over and threw for 279 yards and a touchdown while rushing for one as well.
The Tigers have a mix of impact players either opting out or playing in the game. Myles Murphy and Trenton Simpson are two big defensive starters that will not be playing the game tonight. Murphy was first-team All-ACC this season, so that is a tough loss for the Tigers, but the good news for them is star defensive tackle Bryan Breese will be playing.
Clemson is currently favored by -4.5, and they are my best play for the game. This would be a different conversation if it was a regular season game and Hendon Hooker was healthy but factoring in the roster departures and the quarterbacks today, I like this number for the Tigers.
Klubnik was always the better quarterback option, changing the entire ceiling of the Clemson offense that still averaged 34.7 points per game this season. The freshman can also rely on his backfield mate Will Shipley who rushed for over 1,000 yards and 15 touchdowns, to help carry the offense.
Defensively the Tigers' defense is still imposing, even with the draft opt-outs. Clemson held opponents to an average of 20.8 points per game this season, and the two most significant things that will play a big factor today are their ability to force turnovers and get to the quarterback. The Tigers averaged 1.6 takeaways per game this season, and with Joe Milton’s questionable decision-making at times, this could make the difference in covering.
Aside from the turnover rate, the Tigers behind Bryan Bresee were ranked 21st in sack percentage, so they have a slight advantage over the Vols' offensive line, which was ranked 53rd in sack percentage.
Clemson Tigers (-4.5)