Tennessee Fits Just Fine with Clemson

Now that it is official and Clemson will play Tennessee in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl, let me take a moment to tell you why this is a perfect match up for the Tigers. All the while, I'll help debunk some misconceptions that you most surely will hear in the weeks leading up to the game with Tennessee.

Misconception #1
Tennessee has had a better year than Clemson
When you try and compare a team that is 10-2 versus a team that is 8-4, it will be obvious to the 10-2 team and the national media that the team with the better record has had a better year.

Well, in this case, maybe not.

Tennessee and Clemson both were blown out by Georgia (30-0 and 41-14). Tennessee squeaked by South Carolina in Knoxville in overtime (23-20) while the Tigers whipped the Gamecocks in Columbia (63-17). The Vols also struggled for three quarters to beat Duke before rallying in the 4th quarter, while Clemson defeated the Blue Devils handily in a 40-7 romp.

The Volunteers have one win against a top 10 team (Miami in Coral Gables) and so do the Tigers (Florida State in Clemson).

Tennessee has beaten 3 teams in 2003 that will be bowling, including one BCS team (Fresno State, Florida, Miami). The Tigers have also beaten 3 teams that will be bowling this year, including one BCS team (Virginia, Georgia Tech, Florida State).

Both of Tennessee's losses came to teams that will play in bowls (Auburn and Georgia). 3 of Clemson's 4 losses were to teams that will play in bowls this year (Georgia, Maryland, N.C. State).

And both teams feasted on some overmatched teams to beef up their win column. Tennessee beat 5 teams that would eventually have a losing season (South Carolina, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, and Alabama). Clemson beat 4 teams that would eventually have a losing season (Middle Tennessee State, North Carolina, Duke, and South Carolina) and one Division I-AA team that had a winning record (Furman).

The biggest difference in the season (other than the records) would have to be Clemson's ugly loss to Wake Forest. Tennessee did not suffer an equally bad loss at anytime in the season.

Therefore, despite the difference in rankings and records, Clemson and Tennessee have had similar seasons when broken down. So you can ignore those that say Clemson is overmatched based on the comparisons of records.

Misconception #2
Tennessee has better fans than Clemson
The state of Tennessee is devoted to the Volunteers, and rightfully so. The Vols are the only football school in the state that actually tries to compete at the highest level. Therefore, filling a 100,000 seat stadium is no problem for the team that has the loyalty of the entire state.

Clemson shares the state of South Carolina with the Gamecocks. South Carolina is a slightly smaller state than Tennessee to begin with, and the Gamecocks play big time college football (even if they are not very good at it at times). Despite having a rival instate that plays big time college football, Clemson averages over 75,000 per home game in Clemson.

Tennessee has also traditionally traveled very well to bowl games. In fact, there may not be a bowl game in the history of their program where the Vols were out-numbered by the opposing team as far as fans in the seats.

That is going to change January 2nd. Clemson and Tennessee were both allotted around 16,000 tickets for the Peach Bowl. Clemson sold all of those through IPTAY, including an additional 4,000 that the Tigers requested. Because the ACC pecking order for bowls was established weeks ago, Clemson fans have also bought up just about every available ticket in Atlanta. Tiger fans that did not have the priority to buy through IPTAY have been buying up any and all available tickets through the Peach Bowl or other outlets in Atlanta. Those numbers vary conservatively at around 10,000 and upwards up 20,000.

There is also concern in Knoxville that the Volunteers will not even buy up their 16,000 allotment. Sensing a let down from the fans in receiving the Peach Bowl, UT Athletic Director Mike Hamilton said Saturday night "If we end up in the Peach Bowl, we need to sell our entire 16,000 ticket allotment and have the biggest crowd possible'', hinting that selling the 16,000 may be a problem. Hamilton went on to say, "I want to give our players the best possible environment. I don't want them to be penalized by what the Outback Bowl did.'', referring to the Tampa bowl who picked Florida over Tennessee despite the Volunteers better ranking and record.

And don't forget, Tennessee went to the Peach Bowl last year and the SEC Championship in Atlanta the year before. Are the Tennessee fans tired of the trip to Atlanta?

When it is all said and done, the amount of fans in the Georgia Dome could be as dramatic as 40,000 Clemson fans to 14,000 Tennessee fans. It may not end up being quite that drastic, but Tennessee will be going to a bowl game with a smaller crowd than their opponent for possibly the first time ever.

Misconception #3
Tennessee has better talent than Clemson
If you go strictly by recruiting rankings, Tennessee most certainly has better talent than Clemson. It would also be hard to argue that Tennessee does not have more talented depth than Clemson. I'll concede that right off the top, but a quick look at the starting lineups gives Clemson some advantages that many outside of Clemson may not expect.

On offense, Clemson is better than Tennessee at quarterback and wide receiver. Charlie Whitehurst, although not as experienced as Casey Clausen, statistically whips the elder quarterback in almost every statistic. Whitehurst has thrown for more yards and has more touchdown passes than Clausen. With big games from Derrick Hamilton and Kevin Youngblood, it is possible that Clemson could have 2 wide receivers with over 1,000 yards receiving in a season. James Banks is Tennessee's leading receiver and he has less than 600 yards receiving on the season.

Tennessee is better up front than Clemson on offense, and the running back by committee that Tennessee uses is better than the Tiger's running back by committee. Cedric Houston and Jabari Davis have combined for over 1,200 yards rushing while Duane Coleman and Chad Jasmin have combined for a little less than 1,000 yards.

On defense, the Tennessee defensive line is more talented than the Tigers, but Clemson has an advantage at linebacker and defensive back. Clemson has 4 players (Leroy Hill, John Leake, Jamaal Fudge, and Travis Pugh) that have greater than 94 tackles on the year. Tennessee does not have a single player with greater than 94 tackles, and only has 4 players over 70 tackles (Gibril Wilson, Kevin Simon, Robert Peace, and Kevin Burnette).

Dustin Colquitt averages an astonishing 46 yards a punt compared to Cole Chason's 38 yards per punt, giving UT a huge advantage in that category.

James Wilhoit is 17-23 on the year in field goals with a longest of 51 yards compared to Aaron Hunt's 16-22 with a longest of 44 yards.

Clemson leads Tennessee in kickoff return average (27.7 ypr to 20.5 ypr). Tennessee leads Clemson in punt returns (6.5 ypr to 12.5 ypr).

So, overall, it appears this match up will be closely contested based on the statistical data from the season for both teams.

Clemson will most likely enter the game as an underdog, something they did in every game this season minus Furman, Middle Tennessee State, North Carolina, and Duke. In games the Tigers came is as underdogs, Clemson posted a respectable 4-4 record.

The Tigers will not be intimidated by Tennessee, especially considering the Clemson coaches will make clear the above points about how the two teams compare. It will be a huge opportunity for Clemson, giving the Tigers a chance to knock off two top 10 teams in the span of 4 games.

Tennessee has earned their #7 ranking, and this editorial was not intended to cast doubt on the quality of the Volunteers football team this year. However, Clemson has proved over the past 4 weeks that they are a sleeping giant and Tennessee gives the Tigers an opportunity to wake up on the national stage.

We'll find out January 2nd.

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