A pair of 10-win teams square off in the 45th annual Chick-fil-A Bowl on New Year's Eve, as the Clemson Tigers take on the LSU Tigers at the Georgia Dome.
LSU came into the season with national championship aspirations, but those dreams came to a end after heartbreaking losses to SEC rivals Florida (14-6) and Alabama (21-17). Despite those two setbacks, the Tigers had an impressive year against nationally-ranked opponents, defeating Texas A&M on the road (24-19), as well as South Carolina (23-21) and Mississippi State (37-17) at home. LSU is 22-20-1 all-time in bowl games, including 5-2 under Les Miles.
"Clemson is obviously a very talented team," said Miles, who has won 10 or more games in six of his eight seasons in Baton Rouge. "(Head coach Dabo) Swinney has done a great job there and we look forward to a great matchup and a competitive game in the Chick-fil-A bowl between two very talented teams."
"We enjoy playing in Atlanta," Miles continued "It's a great city that has been very good to LSU. I'm sure that we'll travel extremely well. The Georgia Dome is an outstanding venue and we are excited about the opportunity to play in the Chick-fil-A Bowl."
Clemson came into the year with high expectations and it was able to live up to the hype, with its only two losses in 12 tries coming at Florida State on Sept. 22, 49-37, and at home versus South Carolina in the regular-season finale, 27-17. LSU is its highest-ranked opponent in a bowl game since it faced No. 6 Tennessee in the 2004 Peach Bowl, a game the Tigers won, 27-14.
"Our coaches, our players and our fans always look forward to playing against the best programs in the nation and LSU certainly fits that description," Swinney said. "We are going to have the opportunity to compete against a top 10 team that played for it all last year. I know our players will be excited to compete against LSU because they are among the best programs in the nation on a yearly basis. Les Miles is one of the top coaches in the nation. He has consistently competed for the national championship, including this year. They barely lost to Alabama, who is in the National Championship game this year."
LSU has won both previous meetings with Clemson, which includes a 10-7 triumph in the 1996 Peach Bowl.
The LSU offense has had its share of ups and down in the treacherous SEC, but it finished the regular season averaging impressive 30.2 ppg on 387.2 ypg.
In his first season as a starter, Zach Mettenberger completed less than 59 percent of his passes for 2,489 yards, tossing just 11 touchdowns. While the young signal-caller went through some growing pains, for the most part, he took care of the football with just six interceptions. His completion-to- interception ratio (55:1) is the best in school history.
Leading a stable of talented running back is Jeremy Hill, who owns team-highs in attempts (130), yards (631) and touchdowns (10). The Tigers tend to go with the hot hand in the backfield, with Kenny Hilliard (456 yards, 6 TDs), Michael Ford (393 yards, 3 TDs) and Spencer Ware (358 yards, 1 TD) also showing flashes of brilliance.
In addition to catching 40 passes for 673 yards and two touchdowns, Odell Beckham, Jr. is also a threat on special teams with a pair of scores on punt returns. Jarvis Landry is the squad's leading receiver with 52 catches for 536 yards and 4 touchdowns.
While the offense has been impressive, the biggest reason for LSU's success has been its outstanding defense, which ranks 11th in the nation in points (16.9) and eighth in yards (296.2) allowed per outing.
The unit is anchored by a trio of AP All-Americans in safety Eric Reid (81 tackles, 2 INTS), linebacker Kevin Minter (111 tackles, 13.5 TFL) and defensive end Sam Montgomery (12 TFL, 7 sacks). Tharold Simon (four INTs) and Craig Loston (three INTs) are active in the turnover battle and the team has forced 31 takeaways on the year, tied for eighth-most in the FBS.
Clemson has managed to put together one of the nation's most potent offenses, as it leads the league in both scoring (42.3 ppg) and yardage (518.3 ypg), and it has done so behind a trio of First Team All-ACC selections.
Tajh Boyd has been fantastic this season, completing 66.6 percent of his passes for 3,550 yards with 34 touchdowns against 13 interceptions. Boyd is more than just an elite passer however, as he has rushed for 492 yards and 9 scores.
Andre Ellington is a fantastic complement to Boyd in the backfield, as he has racked up 1,053 yards on 201 carries. He has also added 197 receiving yards and has scored 9 total touchdowns.
DeAndre Hopkins has emerged as Boyd's favorite target and he has logged 69 receptions for 1,214 yards and 16 touchdowns, with nearly a third of his catches going for 20 yards or longer. Sammy Watkins (57 receptions, 708 yards, 3 TDs) is also strong in the receiving game.
The Clemson defensive unit has been no where near as strong as LSU's, but it has played well enough to win in the ACC as it allows opponents to score fewer than 24.9 ppg.
Jonathan Willard and Spencer Shuey lead the way with 88 tackles apiece, while Rashard Hall (75 tackles) has picked off 4 passes. Although Vic Beasley has just 18 total tackles, he is one of the conference's strongest pass-rushers with 8 tackles for loss and 8 sacks.