Clemson, Tennessee will meet in a very orange Orange Bowl
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — The Orange Bowl will be the most aptly named bowl of all this year.
Clemson and Tennessee — two schools with orange as their predominant uniform color — are headed to the Orange Bowl on Dec. 30. Clemson earned its spot by winning the Atlantic Coast Conference; Tennessee was an at-large selection.
It’s the seventh trip to the Orange Bowl for the Tigers (11-2, No. 7 College Football Playoff, No. 10 AP) and the fifth appearance in the game for the Volunteers (10-2, No. 6 CFP, No. 6 AP).
“We’ve got a team that’s excited,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Sunday. “Really proud of our guys for how they finished the season. To have an opportunity to play in this game is something you really dream of. … It is an iconic bowl experience.”
It’ll be a matchup of proven programs and upstart quarterbacks.
Freshman Cade Klubnik took over for incumbent starter DJ Uiagalelei on Clemson’s third drive of what became the 39-10 win over North Carolina in the ACC title game on Saturday night and provided an immediate spark, completing his first 10 passes and leading the Tigers to touchdowns on each of their first three drives with him in the game.
“A glimpse of our future and what it looks like at Clemson,” Swinney said. “I’m really happy for him, and yeah, he definitely has earned his opportunity to go start.”
For Tennessee, Hendon Hooker — who made his first career collegiate start at Hard Rock Stadium, the home of the Orange Bowl, when he guided Virginia Tech to a win over Miami in 2019 — missed out on a chance to make his final college start on the same field. He was lost last month with a knee injury, meaning the Volunteers will likely be turning to Joe Milton III in the Orange Bowl.
Luckily for Tennessee, it has an Orange Bowl-winning quarterback making the trip to South Florida.
Volunteers coach Josh Heupel was Oklahoma’s quarterback when the Sooners beat Florida State 13-2 in the Orange Bowl that capped the 2000 season — the BCS national championship game that season.
“I know, having played in it and coached in it two previous times, this bowl game is as good as it gets,” Heupel said. “It’s a very unique and special opportunity for our football program and one that we couldn’t be more excited to partake in.”
The teams have one common opponent this season. And one common outcome.
If South Carolina hadn’t gone 2-0 against the Tigers and Volunteers this season, the final CFP rankings might have looked a bit different — maybe to the point where one of those teams would be headed to a semifinal game and a chance to play for the national title.
But the Gamecocks ended their regular season by beating Tennessee and Clemson in consecutive weeks; they topped the Volunteers 63-38 on Nov. 19, then ended the Tigers’ 40-game home winning streak with a 31-30 victory in a rivalry game on Nov. 26.
It’s not the first Orange Bowl between orange schools. Maybe most notable on the all-Orange list: The Florida-Syracuse game on Jan. 2, 1999, the last time the bowl game was actually played in the now-demolished Orange Bowl stadium.
But that game wasn’t very orange-y. Both teams wore orange helmets, but the Gators wore white jerseys and blue pants, while the then-Orangemen — Syracuse wouldn’t become the Orange until 2004 — donned blue jerseys and orange pants.
Tennessee is 11-6-2 all-time against Clemson. The Tigers won the last meeting, prevailing 27-14 in the Peach Bowl on Jan. 2, 2004.
The Volunteers have won the last seven regular-season meetings between the schools, all between 1920 and 1976. They were all in Knoxville; Clemson hasn’t played host to the Volunteers since a 14-0 win in 1919.
ACC VS. SEC
The SEC went 6-3 against the ACC this season, and has won 20 of the last 26 meetings between the conferences.
Clemson has won 11 of its last 15 games against SEC teams. Tennessee is 4-1 in its last five against ACC foes.
Tennessee led the nation in yards (538.1) and points (47.3) per game this season. And offensive coordinator Alex Golesh was rewarded for that success, with South Florida announcing Sunday that it hired him as its new coach.
“Losing Alex is something that we’re excited about,” Heupel said. “I think it speaks to the growth inside of our program.”