2009 Music City Bowl - Clemson vs. Kentucky
Kentucky's Micah Johnson & Clemson's C.J. Spille
Kentucky's Micah Johnson & Clemson's C.J. Spille
Posted Dec 21, 2009

The CFN 2009 Music City Bowl Preview - Clemson vs. Kentucky

2009 Music City Bowl

Clemson (8-5) vs. Kentucky (7-5)

Nashville, TN, Dec. 27, 8:30, ESPN

Scroll Down For Bowl Histories & Best Moments

- Free Expert Football Predictions For This Game
- Get Tickets For The Music City Bowl

Team Pages and 2009 Season

- 2008 CFN Music City Bowl Preview
- 2007 CFN Music City Bowl Preview
- 2006 CFN Music City Bowl Preview
National Rankings
C   K
69th Total Offense 90th
22nd Total Defense 59th
24th Scoring Offense 63rd
27th Scoring Defense 44th
44th Rushing Offense 21st
69th Run Defense 100th
86th Passing Offense 18th
11th Passing Defense 18th
39th Turnover Margin 46th
Position Ratings
relative to each other
C 5 highest
1 lowest
3 Quarterbacks 2.5
5 RBs 4
4 Receivers 3
2 O Line 3.5
2.5 D Line 1.5.
3 Linebackers 3
4 Secondary 4
4.5 Spec Teams 4.5
3.5 Coaching 5
Music City Bowl History
2008 Vanderbilt 16, Boston College 14
2007 Kentucky 35, Florida State 28
2006 Kentucky 28, Clemson 20
2005 Virginia 34, Minnesota 31
2004 Minnesota 20, Alabama 16
2003 Auburn 28, Wisconsin 14
2002 Minnesota 29, Arkansas 14
2001 Boston College 20, Georgia 16
2000 West Virginia 49, Ole Miss 38
1999 Syracuse 20, Kentucky 13
1998 Virginia Tech 38, Alabama 7
Clemson and Kentucky have no one to blame but themselves for finishing the year in Tennessee rather than Florida.

With a win in the finale, both schools would have elevated from the Music City Bowl to higher ground. However, the Tigers lost the ACC Championship game to Georgia Tech, 39-34, missing out on a possible Orange Bowl meeting with Iowa. And the Wildcats fell for the 25th straight time to border rival Tennessee, ending hopes for a late run to the more lucrative and visible Outback Bowl. Instead, the schools will deliver a sequel to the 2006 game won by the ‘Cats, 28-20.

After getting off to a slow start, Clemson darn near blew right past expectations in Dabo Swinney's first season as the permanent head coach. At 2-3, the Tigers hit rock bottom with an Oct. 3 loss at Maryland, but exited the bye week as a completely different team. Five consecutive wins later, it was the Atlantic Division champ and the nation's 15th-ranked team. However, as has often been the case in Death Valley, the program was unable to close, losing badly at rival South Carolina before dropping a heartbreaker to the Yellow Jackets in Tampa. A third consecutive loss to conclude the season is sure to erase all of the equity that Swinney and Clemson were able to secure this fall.

More than anything else, this season will be remembered as the one that versatile playmaker C.J. Spiller finally fulfilled all of his potential after sharing the spotlight with James Davis for so long. One of the most electrifying players in the country—and certainly in Nashville Sunday night—he forced his way into the Heisman discussion, often hoisting the Clemson offense on his pads. The only player to produce a touchdown in every game, he scored as a runner, receiver, passer, punt returner, and kick returner, striking fear into opposing defenses and special teams units. With all due respect to the country music scene, No. 28 will be the biggest attraction in town on this evening.

Under Rich Brooks, Kentucky has carved out a nice niche during the fall months. After enduring a six-year drought, the Wildcats are set to bowl for a fourth straight December, winning the last three games over East Carolina, Florida State, and Clemson. Okay, so the Liberty Bowl and Music City Bowl wouldn't fly in Tuscaloosa or Gainesville, but it'll suffice in a basketball town, like Lexington.

As usual, the expectations were modest for the ‘Cats entering the season; wallow toward the bottom of the SEC East and keep your fingers crossed when bowl invitations start to go out. Kentucky, however, was better than that, a credit to the job being done by Brooks under difficult circumstances. Despite losing starting QB Mike Hartline in October and being forced to employ true freshman Morgan Newton, the Wildcats became bowl-eligible two weeks before the end of the regular season. Oh, and that run included the program's first win over Auburn since 1966 and its first defeat of Georgia in Athens since 1977. Beating Clemson as an underdog for the school's fourth bowl win in-a-row would be an exclamation point and further proof that Brooks still has it at the age of 68.

Players to Watch: Kentucky has its own Mr. Versatility, sophomore Randall Cobb. The quarterback-turned-wide receiver has excelled in the team's "WildCobb" package. Simply an athlete, he's rushed for 537 yards and 10 scores, caught 37 passes for 427 yards and four touchdowns, took a punt back for six, and is always a threat to throw. He'll share the load with leading rusher Derrick Locke, giving the Wildcats a multitude of different looks and formations out of the running game.

So who'll be taking snaps when Kentucky sets up in traditional sets? Bank on Newton getting the nod once again, but Hartline is hoping to be available after missing the last two months with a knee injury. Whoever drops back to pass is not going to like what he sees. Clemson can be demanding on opposing quarterbacks, getting edge pressure from Ricky Sapp and Da'Quan Bowers, and boasting one of the better defensive backfields in the country. The corners are a couple of savvy veterans, seniors Crezdon Butler and Chris Chancellor. However, it's the safeties, which should really concern Newton and Hartline. DeAndre McDaniel and Rashard Hall possess the athleticism and ball skills of some cornerbacks, picking off 14 passes combined this fall.

It's a work-in-progress, but the Clemson staff is excited about the future of redshirt freshman QB Kyle Parker. A terrific all-around athlete, who gets maximum velocity on his throws, he threw for 19 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions in an up-and-down debut. Facing a Kentucky defense that ranks 18th nationally against the pass will be a challenge, especially since star CB Trevard Lindley has had time to rest the ankle that bothered him throughout the season. The Tiger staff might want to be conservative, using TE Michael Palmer on the intermediate routes and Spiller swinging out of the backfield rather than attempting too many deep balls to speedster Jacoby Ford. Parker does get a break by not having to face Sam Maxwell, who'll miss the game with a shoulder injury. One of the top SEC linebackers in coverage, he finished the year with 80 tackles and six interceptions. He leaves a void at strongside that'll have to be filled by unproven junior Jacob Dufrene and true freshman Ridge Wilson.

Kentucky will win if ... it can run the ball effectively. The Wildcat passing attack versus the Clemson secondary is going to favor the defense seven days a week and twice on Sundays. Yeah, it might catch the Tigers by surprise once or twice, but going up top will not be the staple on offense. Kentucky will have to grind it out against a Clemson D that's average on the second line of defense and has been vulnerable against teams that commit to the ground game. Running behind LT Zipp Duncan and a line that averages more than 300 pounds, the ‘Cats will go heavy with Locke out of traditional sets and Cobb by any means necessary. They'll have to limit what Newton must do in the pocket, meaning too many third-and-long situations or an early deficit is going to be a big concern. Basically, if Kentucky is forced to get away from its gameplan and throw more than 30 times, it'll probably have its postseason winning streak snapped.

Clemson will win if ... Parker stops performing like a first-year starter. If you go back and dissect the Tigers' five-game winning streak, one important thing stands out; the offense had a consistent threat of a passing game, helping fuel an average of 41 points during that stretch. Parker, in particular, was brilliant, turning the corner from his shaky start to toss 16 touchdown passes and just four picks over the five games. Naturally, with opposing defenses forced to respect the pass, this was also the time that Spiller really began to erupt, getting an assist on the ground from Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper. Of course, the flip side shows Parker throwing just a single touchdown pass and three interceptions in the back-to-back losses to South Carolina and Georgia Tech. The Tigers need him to be an effective downfield passer, or else the rest of the attack will misfire, giving hope for the upset to the Wildcats.

What will happen: Which Clemson team shows up? For that matter, which Kentucky team will arrive in Nashville? Neither the Tigers nor the Wildcats have been particularly easy reads this season, making the Music City Bowl somewhat of a toss-up. One certainty about the ‘Cats, though, is that they'll always give you 60 minutes of hustle and they'll rarely get ambushed. Even in losing this fall, they were respectable against Alabama, lost by two at South Carolina, and took Tennessee to overtime. Clemson will have a four-quarter fight on its hands. It does, however, have much more top-end talent, which will be the difference. Whenever Cobb brings the partisan crowd to its feet, Spiller will match him on offense and special teams to always keep the Tigers one step ahead. Forced to come from behind is not a strength of the Kentucky offense, which will be its undoing in the final quarter. Settling instead for a moral victory, Newton will get denied by the Tiger pass defense as he tries to drive the Wildcats down the field in the waning moments of a competitive game.

CFN Prediction: Clemson 30 … Kentucky 24 ... Line: Clemson -7

- Free Expert Football Predictions For This Game
- Get Tickets For The Music City Bowl

Best Wildcat Bowl Moment: Considering that Kentucky has won just a handful of bowl games over the last 60 years, there aren't many options. If you dig deep enough, however, you'll find a hidden gem in the 1951 Sugar Bowl. Under the guidance of Bear Bryant, the Wildcats shocked national champion Oklahoma, 13-7, behind a stingy defense and a pair of Wilbur Jamerson touchdowns to finish with 11 wins for the first time in school history.

Best Tiger Bowl Moment: It's been more than a quarter of a century since Clemson participated in one of college football's marquee bowl games. Back in 1982, the Tigers played No. 4 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, with national supremacy hinging on the outcome. Danny Ford's underrated defensive unit frustrated the star-studded Husker offense in a 22-15 win that gave the Tigers a perfect season and its only national championship.

Kentucky Bowl History (8-5)
2008 Liberty Kentucky 25, East Carolina 19
2007 Music City Kentucky 35, Florida State 28
2006 Music City Kentucky 28, Clemson 20
1999 Music City Syracuse 20, Kentucky 13
1998 Outback Penn State 26, Kentucky 14
1993 Peach Clemson 14, Kentucky 13
1984 Hall of Fame Kentucky 20, Wisconsin 19
1983 Hall of Fame West Virginia 20, Kentucky 16
1976 Peach Kentucky 21, North Carolina 0
1951 Cotton Kentucky 20, TCU 7
1950 Sugar Kentucky 13, Oklahoma 7
1949 Orange Santa Clara 21, Kentucky 13
1947 Great Lakes Kentucky 24, Villanova 14
Clemson Bowl History (15-16)
2008 Gator Nebraska 26, Kentucky 21
2007 Chick-fil-A Auburn 23, Clemson 20 OT
2006 Music City Kentucky 28, Clemson 20
2005 Champs Sports Clemson 19, Colorado 10
2004 Peach Clemson 27, Tennessee 14
2002 Tangerine Texas Tech 55, Clemson 15
2001 Humanitarian Clemson 49, Louisiana Tech 24
2000 Gator Virginia Tech 41, Clemson 20
1999 Peach Mississippi State 17, Clemson 7
1997 Peach Auburn 21, Clemson 17
1996 Peach LSU 10, Clemson 7
1995 Gator Syracuse 41, Clemson 0
1993 Peach Clemson 14, Kentucky 13
1991 Citrus California 37, Clemson 13
1990 Hall of Fame Clemson 30, Illinois 0
1989 Gator Clemson 27, West Virginia 7
1988 Citrus Clemson 13, Oklahoma 6
1987 Citrus Clemson 35, Penn State 10
1986 Gator Clemson 27, Stanford 21
1985 Independence Minnesota 20, Clemson 13
1981 Orange Clemson 22, Nebraska 15
1979 Peach Baylor 24, Clemson 18
1978 Gator Clemson 17, Ohio State 15
1977 Gator Pittsburgh 34, Clemson 3
1959 Bluebonnet Clemson 23, TCU 7
1958 Sugar LSU 7, Clemson 0
1956 Orange Colorado 27, Clemson 21
1951 Gator Miami 14, Clemson 0
1950 Orange Clemson 15, Miami 14
1948 Gator Clemson 24, Missouri 23
1939 Cotton Clemson 6, Boston College 3