"There are a lot of players from the state of Georgia on both teams and it should be an exciting game," says Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville. "We always look forward to playing teams that we don't play very often."
Much like Auburn, head coach Tommy Bowden's Tigers had their fair share of drama this year. With a chance to win the Atlantic Division with a victory over Boston College on Nov. 17, the Tigers led for much of the game but gave up a touchdown with under two minutes remaining. Down 20-17, they had a dropped touchdown pass in the final seconds and lost the game on a missed 54-yard field goal as time expired.
The following week against rival South Carolina, Mark Buchholz's 35-yarder, again as the clock hit double-zeroes, gave Clemson a 23-21 victory over the Gamecocks and ended the regular season on a positive note.
With one of the top offensive backfields in the country, Clemson started the season at 4-0. However, the Tigers had consecutive setbacks--13-3 at Georgia Tech and a 41-23 home loss to Virginia Tech. They won four straight again before the loss to Boston College.
In offensive coordinator Rob Spence's spread offense, junior quarterback Cullen Harper, an NFL prototype QB at 6-4, 220, has completed 67 percent of his passes for 2,887 yards, 27 touchdowns with just six interceptions.
Spence, a familiar name to Auburn, was a candidate for the offensive coordinator position in 2004 when Tuberville hired Al Borges. Spence has been at the same post at Clemson since 2005. As coordinator of Louisiana Tech in 2000, freshman QB Luke McCown completed 47-65 passes for 433 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-28 Auburn victory at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
That same year, Auburn opened the season with a 35-21 victory over Wyoming, who was playing its first game under head coach Vic Koenning.
Koenning was the head coach in Laramie, Wyo., for three seasons, then defensive coordinator at Troy from 2003-04 and has been Clemson's defensive coordinator since the 2005 season.
Both head coaches, Tuberville and Bowden, have been at their respective schools since the 1999 season. Bowden has a 69-41 record at Clemson and also boasted an 18-4 record in two seasons at Tulane. He was also an assistant at Auburn under three different head coaches.
Bowden served as the running backs coach under Doug Barfield during the 1980 season and joined Pat Dye's staff in 1991. He served as offensive coordinator under Dye and brother Terry Bowden until 1996.
The Tigers and Tigers haven't met on the gridiron 1997, which was in the 30th Peach Bowl. Led by quarterback Dameyune Craig, Terry Bowden's Auburn Tigers rallied from a 17-6 fourth quarter deficit to beat Tommy West and Clemson, 21-17.
Auburn holds a 32-11-2 edge in the series. The teams haven't met in the regular season since 1971, a 35-13 Auburn victory. The Tigers are scheduled to play during the regular season at Auburn in 2010 and at Clemson in 2011.
Spence's offense has averaged 412.4 yards per game offensively, which is 47th nationally. On the legs of junior James Davis (5-11, 210) and sophomore C.J. Spiller (5-11 190), the Tigers averaged 158.8 yards per game on the ground.
James, the power back, has 992 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground while boasting a 5.2 average per carry. Spiller, the slasher, averages 4.8 per carry and has 656 and two touchdowns on the ground. He also had 32 receptions for 629 yards and four additional scores.
Harper's favorite target is 6-5 junior Aaron Kelly. He has 84 grabs for 1,045 yards and 11 TDs. The second leading receiver is Birmingham native Tyler Grisham, who played at Spain Park High School with Auburn back-up QB Neil Caudle. Grisham has 58 catches for 629 yards and four scores.
Clemson quarterbacks have been sacked 32 times, but the Tigers are +12 on turnovers this season.
Linebacker Nick Watkins is the leading tackler for Clemson with 118 stops on the season. Defensive ends Phillip Merling and Ricky Sapp have combined for 121 tackles, 26 behind the line of scrimmage and 11 sacks.
Koenning's defense is allowing 297.1 yards per game with 112.3 on the ground and 184.8 through the air.
Aside from Grisham, Clemson has five other players on its roster from the state of Alabama--freshman receiver Jeff Ogren from American Christian Academy, freshman linebacker Brandon Maye from Davidson High School, senior receiver La'Donte Harris from Litchfield, freshman linebacker Byron Clear from Hoover and twin brother Brandon Clear, a receiver profiled on MTV's Two-A-Days in 2006.
The game will be played in the Georgia Dome on Dec. 31 at 7:30 p.m. Eastern, 6:30 Central with television coverage on ESPN.