CLEMSON — Dueling Death Valleys.
Two Tiger Rags.
Two sets of Tigers.
It should make an interesting New Year’s Eve in Atlanta.
The Chick-fil-A Bowl made it happen Sunday, pitting No.9 LSU (10-2) and No.14 Clemson (10-2) in the Georgia Dome Dec. 31.
It is Clemson’s first trip to the Chick-fil-A Bowl since 2007’s overtime loss to Auburn; the Tigers have participated in a pair of season-opening Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classics, losing to Alabama in 2008 and beating Auburn 26-19 to open this season.
“Our coaches, our players and our fans always look forward to playing against the best programs in the nation and LSU certainly fits that description. We are going to have the opportunity to compete against a top 10 team that played for it all last year,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said in a statement. “I know our players will be excited to compete against LSU because they are among the best programs in the nation on a yearly basis.”
LSU and Clemson have met twice all-time; LSU beat Clemson 7-0 in the 1959 Sugar Bowl and 10-7 in the 1996 Peach Bowl.
Clemson entered the weekend with an outside shot at a BCS bid despite a regular season-ending loss to South Carolina. However, fellow at-large candidate Oklahoma beat TCU and Mid-American Conference team Northern Illinois jumped both teams, finishing in the top 16 and ahead of Big East champ Louisville to grab the final at-large bid.
After Florida State won the ACC title, the Tigers were locked into the Chick-fil-A. It has the ACC’s first pick following the BCS, and at 7-1 in ACC play, Clemson had two more wins than any other eligible league team, meaning they couldn’t be jumped by anyone.
LSU was the national runner-up a year ago, and its only two losses this season came to No.1 Alabama and No.10 Florida.
“Les Miles is one of the top coaches in the nation. He has consistently competed for the national championship, including this year,” Swinney said. “They barely lost to Alabama, who is in the national championship game this year.”
The Georgia Dome will bookend Clemson’s season; five years ago, the Tigers’ Auburn and Alabama losses bridged the 2007 and 2008 seasons.
“We started the year in Atlanta on national television against an SEC Tiger team and we will finish the year in the same stadium on national television against an SEC Tiger team,” Swinney said. “It is a great opportunity for our program. “I have been to the Chick-fil-A Bowl many times before and it is one of the best bowls in the nation. Gary Stokan and his staff do a first-class job every year and we look forward to representing the ACC in this outstanding game.”
It shapes up as a battle of a high-powered offense against a stout defense. Clemson is No.6 nationally in scoring offense at 42.3 points per game, No.9 in total offense at 518.3 yards per game and No.13 in pass offense at 319.5 yards per game.
LSU has one of the nation’s best defenses, ranking No.8 nationally in total defense at 296.7 yards per game, No.11 in scoring defense at 16.9 points per game, No.9 in rush defense at 101.8 yards per game, and No.20 in pass defense at 194.3 yards per game.
The Bayou Bengals are led by defensive end and Greenwood native Sam Montgomery, who has seven sacks and 10 tackles for loss. Defensive end Barkevious Mingo has five sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss, while linebacker Kevin Minter has 111 tackles and 13.5 tackles for loss; he’s a finalist for the Butkus Award, given to the nation’s top defensive player.
“Clemson is obviously a very talented team. Dabo Swinney has done a great job there. We look forward to a great matchup and a competitive game in the Chick-fil-A Bowl,” LSU coach Les Miles said in a statement. “We enjoy playing in Atlanta. It’s a great city that has been very good to LSU. I’m sure that we’ll travel extremely well. The Georgia Dome is an outstanding venue and we are excited about the opportunity to play in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.”