A pair of 10 win teams square off in the 45th annual Chick-fil-A Bowl. The LSU Tigers take on the Clemson Tigers in the Georgia Dome.
LSU came into the season with national championship aspirations, but those dreams came to an end after heartbreaking losses to SEC rivals Florida and Alabama.
Despite those two setbacks, the Bayou Bengals had an impressive year against nationally ranked opponents, defeating Texas A&M in College Station, as well as South Carolina and Mississippi State in Baton Rouge. LSU is 22-20-1 all-time in bowl games, including 5-2 under Les Miles.
Clemson also began the year with high expectations and was able to live up to the hype, with its only two losses coming at Florida State and at home versus South Carolina in the regular season finale.
LSU has won both previous meetings against Clemson, including a 10-7 victory 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 an impressive 30.2 points per game and 387.2 yards per contest.
In his first season as a starter, QB Zach Mettenberger completed less than 59 percent of his passes for 2,489 yards, with just 11 touchdowns. It was obvious he went through some growing pains as a signal caller, but for the most part, took care of the football with just six interceptions. As a matter of fact, Mettenberger’s completion to interception ratio is the best in school history.
Leading a stable of talented running backs is Jeremy Hill, who owns team-highs in attempts, yards and touchdowns. The freshman totaled 130 carries for 631 yards and 10 scores. Kenny Hilliard racked up 456 yards rushing with 6 TDs. Michael Ford gained 393 yards and 3 TDs. Spencer Ware earned 358 yards on the ground with 1 score.
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.
All those offensive numbers are nice, but we all know that the biggest reason for LSU's success has been its outstanding defense. The D ranks 11th in the nation - allowing just 16.9 points per contest and ranking eighth in yards given up per outing, with 296.2.
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 tackles for loss) and defensive end Sam Montgomery (12 tackles for loss, 7 sacks). Tharold Simon and Craig Loston are active in the turnover battle with a combined 7 interceptions, 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 scoring with 42.3 points per game… while gaining 518.3 yards per contest.
Quarterback Tajh Boyd has been fantastic this season. He has completed 66.6 percent of his passes for 3,550 yards and 34 touchdowns versus 13 interceptions. Boyd is more than just an elite passer however; he has rushed for 492 yards and 9 scores.
Andre Ellington is a great complement in the backfield, as he has racked up 1,053 yards on 201 carries. He has also added 197 receiving yards and 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 is also strong in the receiving game with 57 receptions, 708 yards and 3 TDs.
The Clemson defensive unit has been nowhere near as strong as LSU's, but it has played well enough to win in the ACC. It allows opponents to score fewer than 24.9 points per game.
Jonathan Willard and Spencer Shuey lead the way with 88 tackles apiece, while Rashard Hall 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.
The head-to-head battle between Clemson's high-powered offense and LSU's stout defense is bound to be one of bowl season's most intriguing matchups. Boyd and company will certainly put some points on the board, possibly more than LSU is used to giving up, but in the end, LSU will find a way to win the turnover battle and come away with the victory.
Prediction: LSU 27, Clemson 20