Chick-Fil-A Bowl Preview & Prediction

ATLANTA - The 15th-ranked Clemson Tigers look to win their 10th game for the first time under head coach Tommy Bowden against No. 22 Auburn in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl Monday evening at the Georgia Dome.

BOWL GAME: No. 22 Auburn (8-4, 5-3 SEC) vs. No. 15 Clemson (9-3, 5-3 ACC)

BOWL PAYOUT: ACC - $3.25 million, SEC - $2.4 million

BOWL INFO: The 40th Annual Chick-Fil-A Bowl, formly known as the Peach Bowl, matches the No. 2 ACC from the ACC versus the No. 5 team from the SEC. The payout of the Chick-Fil-A Bowl is the highest outside of the BCS bowls. The ACC leads the SEC in the rivalry series eight games to seven since the two conferences first began to battle for regional bragging rights in the Chick-fil-A Bowl in 1993.

BOWL LOCATION: Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Ga. (71,250)

TV: ESPN (Brad Nessler, Bob Griese, and Paul McGuire)

TIME: 7:30 P.M. EST

SPREAD: Clemson by 2.5

COACHES: Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden is 69-41 (87-45 overall) in his ninth year at Clemson. Bowden has never faced Auburn as a head coach. Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville is 79-33 (104-53 overall) in his ninth season as head coach of the Tigers. Tuberville has never coached against Clemson.

SERIES: Auburn has a 32-11-2 lead in the series with Clemson including wins in each of its last 12 consecutive games against the Tigers from South Carolina. In fact, Clemson has not gained a victory since 1951, a 34-0 win at Clemson. The two teams last met in the Peach Bowl in 1998- a 21-17 come-from-behind win by Auburn.

INJURIES: Clemson- RB Ray Ray McElrathbey (ACL) out, FB Chad Diehl (leg) out, Haydrian Lewis (ACL) out, WR Jacoby Ford (ankle) out. Auburn- LB Craig Stevens (ankle) questionable, RB Tristan Davis (toe) questionable.

AUBURN KEY PLAYER: QB Brandon Cox. Cox is in an usual position of being a fifth-year senior quarterback who has a new offensive coordinator for his last game. How will he respond to a new style of play-calling? Whatever kind of offense Auburn uses against Clemson, Cox will have to be productive and protect the football to his team a chance to win.

CLEMSON KEY PLAYER: OT Chris Hairston. Hairston, a redshirt freshman, will be stepping in for suspended starter Chris Capote at right tackle and will have the unenviable task of matching up with Quentin Groves, one of the top defensive ends in the SEC. Hairston must hold his own and limit his mistakes to prevent Groves from setting up shop in Clemson's backfield.

CRAZY STAT OF THE WEEK: Both teams have been outstanding on defense this year. In fact, both are ranked in the top 10 in the nation in total defense and scoring defense. Clemson is sixth in total defense, allowing just 297 yards per game, while Auburn is eighth at 298 yards per game. Auburn is sixth in scoring defense, allowing 16.7 points per game, while Clemson is 10th in scoring defense, allowing 18.3 points per game.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think he's ready for it. My first starting game of my career, nobody really came behind me and patted me on the back and did all that. Once he gets into the game, he'll start playing better." - Senior Tackle Barry Richardson on redshirt freshman Chris Hairston making his first start on the offensive line.

COVERAGE
* NOTES: Something has to Give
* What About Auburn's Offense?
* CHICK-FIL-A BOWL DIARY: James Davis (Day 4)
* Spence Confirms He's Staying
* Bowden on Spence's Announcement
* 5 Keys to Beating Auburn
* CHICK-FIL-A BOWL DIARY: James Davis (DAY 3)
* Vincent Will Play
* PHOTOS: Chick-Fil-A Bowl Press Conference
* Spence to Announce He's Staying
* CHICK-FIL-A BOWL DIARY: James Davis (DAY 2)
* Groves Healthy and Ready for Clemson
* Been There, Done That
* CHICK-FIL-A BOWL DIARY: James Davis (DAY 1)
* NOTEBOOK: Tigers Very Sharp
* Wednesday Bowden Audio
* Tigers Visit Scottish Rite Children's Hospital
* NOTEBOOK: Clear Steps Up
* PHOTOS: Tigers Preparing for Auburn
* Cooper Ready for Starting Position
* Thursday Clemson Football Notebook
* PHOTOS: Tigers Preparing for Auburn II
* Watkins, Billie, Capote Ineligible for Bowl
* Auburn D One of Nation's Best
* Tigers Preparing for New Auburn Offense

KEYS FOR THE CLEMSON OFFENSE - This season has proven when Clemson can't run the ball it can't win. In losses to Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Boston College the Tigers averaged just 30 yards on the ground. By comparison, in Clemson's nine wins the Tigers averaged 165. Auburn's defense has been solid against the run ranking 27th in the nation in run defense at 119 yards per game. Running backs James Davis and C.J. Spiller must take advantage of their opportunities with the ball in their hands, turning four or five yard carries into 10 or 15 yards bursts, especially considering Auburn's pass defense ranks as one of the toughest in the nation. If points are hard to come by, the winner of this game will likely come down to which team is more productive in the red zone. Clemson struggled in short-yardage and goal line situations late in the season against Boston College and South Carolina. That can't happen against a defense as productive as Auburn's. Clemson finished second in the ACC in red zone offense, converting 51 red zone opportunities into points 46 times. The problem is only 32 of those 51 times were touchdowns scored. In addition, only one kicker in the country attempted more field goals than Mark Buchholz, who converted on 20-of-32 attempts. Simply put, Clemson must convert red zone opportunities into touchdowns against Auburn in order to win.

KEYS FOR THE CLEMSON DEFENSE - The Tigers have to replace two starting linebackers on defense in Nick Watkins and Tramaine Billie, who were both suspended for the final game of their Clemson careers. Scotty Cooper will step in for Billie while Jeremy Campbell will take the place of Watkins. Auburn enters the Chick-Fil-A Bowl ranked 107th in the country in passing, averaging just 173.7 yards per game. However a change in offensive coordinators could have the Tigers looking to throw more out of the spread formation, which could mean a more aggressive attack with fifth-year senior quarterback Brandon Cox calling the shots. For the season, Cox has struggled, completing just over 58 percent of his passes for nine touchdown passes and 12 interceptions. A downfield passing game could play right into the hands of a Clemson secondary that gave up just 11 scores all season, but it all starts up front. Clemson's front four must pressure Cox into throwing the ball sooner than he wants. Still, Clemson defensive coordinator Vic Koenning has to be wondering what kind of offense and play calling he'll see in this game. Will it be Tony Franklin, Auburn's new offensive coordinator using more spread formation, or will Auburn simply try to attack Clemson's defense up the middle with the power running game? Running backs Ben Tate and Brad Lester could provide a strong 1-2 punch if Auburn has early success on the ground. Also, don't be surprised to see backup signal caller Kodi Burns in the game for at least a series or two, as Burns is used to Franklin's spread package and offers more mobility.

SPECIAL TEAMS - The Tigers from the Plains are up and down on special teams. Auburn, led by punter Ryan Shoemaker, ranks first in the SEC in net punting at 39.3 yards/punt but next to last in kickoff returns at 18.5 yards/return and next to last in kickoff coverage. Freshman kicker Wes Byrum had a solid first season, connecting on 16-of-21 field goals with a long of 49. He also drilled the game-winner in the Swamp to beat the defending National Champion Florida Gators as time expired. Clemson's Mark Buchholz has to riding high after his 33-yard game-winner against South Carolina last month. Clemson should present some problems in the return game where C.J. Spiller came on late to be the ACC's second leading kickoff returner at almost 30 yards/attempt.

INTANGIBLES - With more than four weeks gone by since these two teams last took the field, it's always important to grab the early momentum. In Clemson's past four bowl games, the team that has scored first has gone on to win. A win for Clemson would be important on several levels. For starters it would be the 10th win of the season. That has not happened since 1990. In addition, it would likely the pave the way for a preseason top 10 ranking headed into next year.

PREDICTION: Clemson 24 Auburn 17
One element to this game not being discussed as much is team speed. Auburn has a lot, but Clemson has more, especially on offense. Clemson has more playmakers, more team speed and isn't trying to figure out its offensive identity entering this game.

PRE-GAME SHOW INFO: The Tiger Pre-game Show with Roy Philpott and Scott Rhymer will be broadcasting live from Fan Fest at the World Congress Center next to the Georgia Dome from 1:30 PM to 4:30 PM Saturday afternoon. Tune in to 104.9 WCCP FM in upstate South Carolina or on the world wide web on wccpfm.com as we celebrate our 63rd consecutive game broadcasting on location covering your Clemson Tigers.

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