Big 12: Gator Bowl first take

Konica Minolta Gator Bowl: Nebraska (8-4) vs. Clemson (7-5)

December, 7, 2008
12/07/08
9:05
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

A New Year's Day bowl game might have seemed unlikely for both teams after both were sitting at 3-3 at midseason.

But Bo Pelini and Dabo Swinney both have done nice jobs to help their teams finish strong. Pelini started his year with Nebraska this season and Swinney took over on an interim basis after Tommy Bowden was fired and has since been hired permanently.

The Cornhuskers closed quickly under Pelini, winning five of their last six games to help Nebraska surge at the end of the season. The biggest reason for their success was the heady play of underrated quarterback Joe Ganz, who directed an offense that ranked 14th in passing offense, 12th in total offense and 18th in scoring.

The Tigers will be making a record ninth appearance in Jacksonville and have an intriguing set of offensive weapons keyed by a strong 1-2 punch at tailback in James Davis and C.J. Spiller. Davis needs 112 yards to become Clemson's career rushing leader and Spiller needs 114 yards to earn the school's record in all-purpose yards.

Clemson's defense ranked ninth nationally in pass defense, 10th in scoring defense and 17th in total defense. But it is unknown how the Tigers will react after former coordinator Vic Koenning stepped down out after the season. And Nebraska's balanced offensive attack will challenge them, particularly if running back Roy Helu Jr. is prominently featured.

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