Highly touted prep recruit Willy Korn was supposed to be the Tigers' quarterback of the future, but it's been redshirt freshman Kyle Parker who has taken over the reins at Clemson. Parker has faced the typical ups and downs of a first-year starter with 19 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. When he plays well, the Tigers usually win, and his worst performances have come in Clemson losses. The Wildcats also feature a first-year quarterback in Morgan Newton, who'll be making his eighth straight start. Newton has shown poise but hasn't been asked to do much in the passing game. Expect to see some of junior Mike Hartline in relief.
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Clemson features one of the most exciting all-around players in the country in C.J. Spiller, who can bust a big play on the ground, as a receiver or in the return game. UK hasn't had much luck stopping the better backs on its schedule this season, so expect Spiller to get 20-plus carries. The Cats have a versatile back of their own in Derrick Locke, who will be looking to have a big game as he decides on his NFL future.
Clemson has a legitimate home-run threat in senior Jacoby Ford, an NCAA indoor champion in the 60 meters. With strongside linebacker Sam Maxwell out with a shoulder injury, the Cats also could have their hands full with All-ACC tight end Michael Harper. It's hard to properly evaluate the receivers since UK has scaled back the passing game the last half of the season. Randall Cobb remains the No. 1 weapon, and freshman LaRod King has come on down the stretch. King did miss some practice time this week with flu-like symptoms.
The UK offensive line has been the strongest unit on the team all season, and they will be relied on heavily to get the ground game going and carry the offense. Left tackle Zipp Duncan and left guard Christian Johnson will see a lot of action come their way. Clemson is young up front, starting a freshman and two sophomores. Junior left tackle Chris Hairston (6-7, 325) is a pro prospect, and left guard Thomas Austin (6-4, 310) was a second-team All-ACC selection.
The Tigers can match up with some of the best SEC teams in terms of talent up front. Ends DaQuan Bowers and Ricky Sapp have combined for 26 tackles for loss and eight sacks, and tackle Jarvis Jenkins also has 11 stops behind the line of scrimmage. Senior tackle Corey Peters has been the steadying force for the UK D-line all season and will look for a big performance in his final game.
The UK linebacking corps will be severely hurt by the absence of senior Sam Maxwell, who will miss the game with a shoulder injury. It will be up to senior Micah Johnson and sophomore Danny Trevathan to make life easier for Maxwell's replacement, junior Jacob Dufrene. Clemson junior Branden Maye leads the team with 103 tackles and has seven for loss and three sacks. He's flanked by two seniors, Kavell Conner and Kevin Alexander, on the outside.
Clemson has an experienced and productive defensive backfield. Starting cornerbacks Chris Chancellor and Crezdon Butler are battle-tested seniors, and safeties DeAndre McDaniel and Rashard Hall have combined for 14 interceptions. The UK secondary will be as healthy as it's been all season because senior cornerback Trevard Lindley has had time to rest a bothersome ankle injury.
The special teams' strengths for both schools lie in the return game. Locke and Cobb are capable of running one back for the Cats. Spiller and Ford are perhaps the most dangerous duo in the nation. Spiller has four kickoff-return touchdowns and one punt return for a score, and Ford has taken a kickoff back for six. Clemson's kicker has been busy this season, hitting on 20 of his 30 field-goal attempts.