Nashville, TN (Sports Network) - The Kentucky Wildcats of the SEC and the Clemson Tigers of the ACC are set to do battle in the Music City Bowl from Nashville, Tennessee.
Kentucky finished the regular season with a 7-5 record, and all five losses came against SEC opponents. The Wildcats opened the season with a 2-3 mark, but five of their last seven outings resulted in victory. They had a chance to close out the regular season on a four-game win streak, but the finale against Tennessee ended in a 30-24 overtime setback.
Despite that disappointing ending, Rich Brooks did a tremendous job keeping the 'Cats on track despite numerous injuries. The team won at least seven games for the fourth consecutive season, the first time that has been done at Kentucky in nearly a century, since 1909-12. Also, the club set the school record for consecutive non-conference wins with 18, the nation's second- longest active streak.
"I watched Clemson last night and wow!" Brooks said after learning of the opponent for this bowl game. "They are a really good team. They have talent, just like the last time we played them, with great athletes on defense and one of the best running backs in college football."
Speaking of the Tigers, they won the ACC's Atlantic Division with a 6-2 record and are 8-5 overall. Three of the five losses have come by five or fewer points to a team ranked in the current top-10, proof that the club has been competitive all season.
"Winning our first Atlantic Division Championship and having a chance to play for the ACC title, was a significant accomplishment for Coach (Dabo) Swinney and his staff in his first year," said Clemson Athletic Director Terry Don Phillips. "Kentucky has had a terrific season and has been an outstanding program under Coach Rich Brooks. I am sure it will be a great game."
The Wildcats hold an 8-4 series lead over the Tigers, which includes a 28-20 victory in the most recent meeting back in 2006.
Kentucky figures to have quarterback Mike Hartline available for this game. With the exception of a brief appearance in a tilt against Vanderbilt, Hartline has been sidelined since October 10th when he injured his knee against South Carolina.
"There's no soreness right now, there's no swelling," said coach Rich Brooks of his quarterback after Hartline's first practice back.
In the six games that he has played this season, Hartline has completed 59.4 percent of his passes for 802 yards and six touchdowns with seven interceptions. Morgan Newton has played in Hartline's absence, and he has connected on 55.4 percent of his attempts for 608 yards with five scores and two picks.
Regardless of who is under center, expect plenty of passes to go the way of Randall Cobb, the club's must dangerous all-around player. In addition to his 37 catches for 427 yards and four touchdowns, Cobb has rushed for 537 yards and 10 scores, impressive to say the least. As for Derrick Locke, who is third on the roster in catches, he leads the team in rushing with 843 yards and six touchdowns.
Kentucky is generating 27.2 ppg and 336.1 total ypg, decent production for a team that has certainly had some highly productive offensive games.
Defensively, the Wildcats are limiting opponents to 22.8 ppg on 362.9 total ypg. Slowing down Clemson will be difficult without the services of linebacker Sam Maxwell, who will miss this contest because of shoulder surgery. Maxwell had a tremendous senior season, posting 80 tackles to place second on the team.
The Wildcats have allowed 16 rushing scores and 16 passing touchdowns, and there is room for improvement against both means of attack.
Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker has guided the Tigers to eight wins this year as the starter, tied for the most among freshman signal callers nationally. He has set freshman records at the school for touchdown passes, passing yards and completions. His favorite target is Second Team All-ACC wideout Jacoby Ford, who has 53 catches, while First Team All-ACC tight end Michael Palmer has 41 grabs, a Clemson record for a tight end.
Still, all of those players are considered complimentary to star tailback C.J. Spiller, who very well may be the best all-around offensive player in the nation. Spiller, the 2009 ACC Player of the Year, enters bowl season with 7,416 all-purpose yards in his career, third best in NCAA history. He needs 349 yards to become the all-time NCAA leader. He has 50 touchdowns in his career, second only to the 56 accumulated by Florida quarterback Tim Tebow. A threat as a runner, receiver and kick returner, Spiller received a number of votes for the Heisman Trophy this year.
While Clemson is scoring 31.9 ppg and gaining 366.5 total ypg, the club is limiting opponents to 21.0 ppg and 317.2 total ypg. The Tigers are led by Brandon Maye, who has posted 103 total tackles, seven of which have been TFLs. Ricky Sapp has 15 TFLs to his credit, including five sacks, and Clemson has posted an impressive total of 21 interceptions, helping to overshadow the 19 touchdown passes that the club has allowed. The play against the run has been strong, as foes are averaging just 3.5 yards per carry.