Clemson and Iowa State – two teams that began the season ranked among the top 10 before falling by the wayside – will try to cap disappointing seasons with a victory when they play Wednesday in the Cheez-It Bowl at Orlando.
No. 19 Clemson (9-3), which made the College Football Playoff for six consecutive seasons, had three regular-season losses for the first time since 2014. But the Tigers still have a shot to become just the third team ever to post double-digit victories for 11 consecutive seasons, joining Florida State (14, 1987-2000) and Alabama (14, 2008-2021).
No Clemson player has indicated they have plans to skip the bowl game.
“There has been a lot of energy, a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of excitement,” Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney said. “We went seven straight days (of practice) in Clemson and obviously had new pieces and things like that, and guys have really done a good job of leading and just practicing with purpose. That’s what it takes to be successful in the postseason.”
The Tigers, who are 149-36 with 14 consecutive bowl trips in as many seasons under Swinney, got off to a 4-3 start, including a 10-3 loss to Georgia in their season opener. They rallied to close the regular season with five straight victories.
But Clemson has lost both coordinators in the past few weeks, with defensive coordinator Brent Venables taking the head coaching post at Oklahoma and offensive coordinator Tony Elliott assuming the reins at Virginia.
Swinney recently filled both posts from within the program, naming quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter offensive coordinator, while defensive analyst Wes Goodwin and safeties coach Mickey Conn were named co-defensive coordinators.
“I’m really, really excited about the people that we have in place,” Swinney said. “I’ve always taken a lot of pride in developing our players and developing our team, but I also take a lot of pride in developing our staff.”
Iowa State (7-5), which is playing in a school-record fifth-straight bowl game, was a preseason favorite in the Big 12 but lost five games by a combined 29 points and all four of its league losses came down to the final possession.
A Cheez-It Bowl victory would give the Cyclones at least eight wins for the fourth time in Coach Matt Campbell’s six seasons.
Campbell has visited Clemson and been the lead presenter at Clemson’s high school coaching clinic.
“You are always searching for people in our profession that are doing it the right way and they’re leading from the heart,” Campbell said of Swinney. “That was a huge eye-opening experience of, ‘Man, you can lead a football program the right way.’
“It’s an honor to play against them and compete against them. It means a ton for our program.”
Campbell’s Cyclones must face an elite Clemson defense without its primary offensive weapon. All-America running back Breece Hall announced on Dec. 18 that he’s skipping the bowl game and forgoing his final year of eligibility to enter the 2022 NFL Draft.
Hall led the nation in scoring with 138 points and touchdowns with 23.
That leads much of the Cyclones’ offensive burden to quarterback Brock Purdy, who led the Big 12 in both passing yards and total offense and ranked fourth nationally with a completion percentage of 73.1.
Clemson’s defense will present a stiff challenge. The Tigers rank second nationally in scoring defense at 15.0 points per game and rank among the top 10 in the country in 11 other defensive categories.
But the Tigers have struggled offensively this season following the loss of quarterback Trevor Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne to the NFL.
D.J. Uiagalelei struggled in his first season as a starting quarterback and inexperience plagued an offense that had only one senior starter, resulting in an offense that ranked 96th among FBS teams.
-Field Level Media