2007 Chick-fil-A Bowl - Clemson vs. Auburn
Clemson RB James Davis
Clemson RB James Davis
Posted Dec 26, 2007

The last college football game of 2007 should be interesting, to say the least. Auburn has a new offense (maybe), while Clemson will try to get James Davis and the running game going to give the ACC a big feather in its cap. A huge day of games finishes up with the Chick-fil-A Bowl, and it'll be worth being late for your New Year's Party.


Clemson (9-3) vs. Auburn (8-4)

Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

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2007 Chick-fil-A Bowl History, Each Team's Best Bowl Moments, & More

The Don't-Call-It-The-Peach-Chick-fil-A Bowl is always full of surprises, and not always for the positive when it comes to interesting games.

The last semi-meaningful sporting even of the year has recently seen a choke/collapse from Virginia Tech in last year's loss to Georgia, an LSU 40-3 blasting of Miami, and only two games decided by seven points or fewer in the last eight. It's also been a bowl of streaky trends since 1993, when it became an ACC vs. SEC matchup, with the ACC winning the first four, followed up with five in a row from the SEC, four from the ACC, and now a two-game streak for the SEC. Is Clemson the type of team that can buck the trend?

The program's last ten-win season came in 1990, and a win would end that run. Once again, the Tigers flirted with being really, really good, but a 20-17 home loss to Boston College late in the year ended and ACC title dreams, and once again, the question of consistency in the Tommy Bowden era has come up.

National Rankings
Auburn Clemson
Total Offense
101st  327.83 ypg 47th  412.42 ypg
Total Defense
8th  298.33 ypg 6th  297.08 ypg
Scoring Offense
82nd  24.33 ppg 23rd  34.17 ppg
Scoring Defense
6th  16.67 ppg 10th  18.33 ppg
Run Offense
56th  154.17 ypg 50th  158.83 ypg
Run Defense
27th  119.33 ypg 20th  112.33 ypg
Pass Offense
107th  173.67 ypg 41st  253.58 ypg
Pass Defense
6th  179 ypg 13th  184.75 ypg
Turnover Margin
47th  0.08 10th  1.00
Kansas St W 23-13
S Florida L 26-24 OT
Miss St L 19-14
W 55-20
at Florida W 20-17
Vanderbilt W 35-7
at Arkansas
W 9-7
at LSU L 30-24
Ole Miss W 17-3
Tenn Tech
W 35-3
at Georgia L 45-20
Alabama W 17-10
Florida St  W 24-18
UL Monroe W 49-26
Furman W 38-10
at NC State
W 42-20
at Ga Tech L 13-3
Virginia Tech L 41-23
Central Mich W 70-14
at Maryland W 30-17
at Duke W 47-10
W Forest
W 44-10
Boston Coll
L 20-17
at S Car W 23-21
Position Ratings
relative to each other
AU 5 highest
1 lowest
3.5 Quarterbacks 4.5
4 RBs 5
2 Receivers 3.5
3 O Line 3
4.5 D Line 4
4.5 Linebackers 2.5
5 Secondary 5
4 Spec Teams 4
4 Coaching 3.5

Oh sure, on talent and athleticism alone, the Tigers can blast away on a good team like Wake Forest and stomp on a Maryland or Duke, but when it's time to show some heart, especially in tough games against nasty defenses, the team tend to go bye-bye.

Your 2007
Don't-Call-It-The-Peach-Chick-fil-A Bowl is probably going to be a tough, defensive battle. At least that's what Auburn would like.

Clemson is sixth in the nation in total defense, but it hasn't faced a who's who of great offenses, while it's strong, balanced offensive attack lost against three of the solid defenses it faced (Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Boston College). Auburn has won four of its last five bowl games and comes in with one of its best defenses in the Tommy Tuberville era. Can Clemson handle it?

Just as big a question is whether or not Tommy's Tigers (the Auburn version) has any offense to deal with a jacked up Clemson D. Auburn's offense is downright painful to watch at times, with mediocre receivers killing an already average passing game, and a decent, but not special, offensive line having a hard time consistently getting a push for the running game or protecting Brandon Cox. These are hardly the days of Jason Campbell, Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown, and to make matters more interesting, offensive coordinator Al Borges is gone and Tony Franklin is just getting his feet wet after arriving late to the show.

There won't be any high-flying, death-defying stunts from the Auburn offense. It'll be a see-ball-hit ball attack hoping the offensive line can be more physical than the Clemson defensive front, a lot of power running, and a lot of hoping the defense can control the game from the start.

Clemson's offense will simply try to outscore Auburn. Yeah, no duh, but the idea will be to get up early, keep the pressure on by getting points in any way possible, and hoping the AU Tiger attack is as mediocre as it's been all year long.

To go cliché, expect the unexpected. No one saw the 2006 Virginia Tech offense collapsing like it did against Georgia last year. No one saw LSU blowing away Miami in 2005, and there have been shocks after shocks in several other recent games. The
Don't-Call-It-The-Peach-Chick-fil-A Bowl should be among the most unpredictable of the season.

Players to watch: The Auburn offense needs as many breaks as it can get, and it got a huge one when Clemson's leading tackler, LB Nick Watkins, and fourth-leading tackler, LB Tramaine Billie, will be out after not hitting the books hard enough, and junior Cortney Vincent, who's tied for sixth on the team with 54 stops, was arrested on drunk driving charges. That means, at the very least, Clemson will be going with new outside linebackers with freshman Scotty Cooper manning the strongside and sophomore Kavell Conner on the weak. Conner didn't step up this year and become the pass rusher and all-around playmaker he was expected to be, but he didn't have much of a chance with Watkins hard to get off the field. Now he'll get his shot. Cooper is a speedy prospect who'll have to prove early on the he can hold up. At only 210 pounds, he'll get beaten on by the Auburn running game.

Auburn knows all about undersized linebackers, by design, as it always likes to go with smallish, speedy tacklers who can swarm to the ball. Sophomore Tray Blackmon might have the most overall talent in the Tiger corps, but it's been 221-pound junior Chris Evans, who led the team with 63 tackles, who's been the surprise. A star in spring ball, he worked his way into more and more playing time and will combine with the 223-pound Blackmon and 219-pound Craig Stevens to try to keep the speedy Clemson running backs in check.

Offensively, the Auburn attack will revolve around running backs Brad Lester and Ben Tate, who combined for 175 yards in the win over Alabama and have been able to take more and more pressure off Brandon Cox and the passing game. Tate's the team's leading rusher with 856 yards and seven scores, but Lester is the special playmaker when he's right, tearing off 473 yards after missing most of the first half of the year.

Surprisingly, Clemson's offensive star was QB Cullen Harper, who many were ready to shove aside this offseason for superstar recruit Willy Korn, but turned out to be one of the nation's best passers. With 2.887 yards and 27 touchdowns, and only six interceptions, he was able to grow into an efficient, effective weapon who makes everyone around him better. Four of his interceptions came in the three losses, and while he won't have to carry the offense, he can't force anything against the talented Auburn secondary that was 11th in the nation in pass efficiency defense.

Clemson will win if... gets the running game going, and sticks with it. Easier said than done on a group that allows a mere 119 yards per game on the ground and hasn't given up more than 180 to anyone. However, in Auburn's four losses, the D had four of its five worst days against the run giving up 776 yards and seven touchdowns, while allowing a mere 656 rushing yards and four touchdowns in the eight wins. On the flip side, Clemson had its three worst running days of the year in its three losses, netting a mere 34 yards against Georgia Tech, eight against Virginia Tech, and 47 against Boston College. Harper might be good enough to make the attack shine, but it'll be up to James Davis and C.J. Spiller to pull off the win.

Auburn will win if... the pass rush gets going. That might seem like a given, but it's not considering Auburn was 11th in the 12 team SEC in both sacks and tackles for loss. Quentin Groves might have had a disappointing year with only three sacks, but he missed time with dislocated toes and never got the same push over the second half of the season that he had in the first. With time off to rest up, he's looking for just his second sack of the season since getting two in the opener against Kansas State. With all the attention paid to Groves, Antonio Coleman was able to step in and shine with a team-leading seven sacks, while 291-pound Sen'Derrick Marks grew into an all-around beast who often commanded double teams. The Clemson offensive line is fine, led by senior LT Barry Richardson, an almost certain first round draft pick, but pass protection has been an issue allowing 32 sacks on the year. Auburn has to hurry Harper all game long.

What will happen: The Tigers will win. The loss of the linebacking stars won't be a killer for the Clemson defense, but it certainly won't help, while the offense will have problems consistently moving the ball on an Auburn defense that should be frothing at the mouth now that it'll be as healthy as it's been all year. In his final game, Auburn QB Brandon Cox will be just efficient enough to keep the green Clemson linebackers off the line. That'll be enough to get Tate and Lester the room they need to get a few big runs here and there to get control late.

Line: Clemson -1.5 ... CFN Prediction: Auburn 20 ... Clemson 16

2007 Chick-fil-A Bowl History, Each Team's Best Bowl Moments, & More