Two powerful forces collide on Monday in the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando, when the high-octane offense of the Oklahoma Sooners (8-4, 5-4 Big 12) faces off with the top-ranked defense of the No. 17 Clemson Tigers (9-3, 6-2 ACC).
The Sooners have averaged 38.9 points per game this season, and scored 30 or more points in all but one game in 2014. Bob Stoops’s squad averages 268.8 rushing yards a games (No. 9 in the nation), and have been boosted by the play of running back Samaje Perine. The Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year has rushed for 1,579 yards, and set the single-game rushing record on Nov. 22 against the Kansas Jayhawks, finishing with 427 yards and five touchdowns.
Oklahoma has struggled against ranked schools this season, losing to Big 12 opponents TCU, Kansas State and Baylor, who trounced the Sooners in Norman, 48-14. However, all three teams finished the regular season strong with Baylor currently ranked No. 5, TCU ranked No. 6 and Kansas State ranked No. 11. Oklahoma’s lone loss to an unranked opponent came in their final game of the regular season, losing at home to rival Oklahoma State, 38-35, in overtime. The Sooners were without quarterback Trevor Knight due to a neck injury, but the sophomore has been cleared to play against the Tigers.
“He's been excellent,” Stoops said of Knight. “He's taken every snap through all the practices. He's felt great, you know, through the practices and afterwards. So he's been back up to speed in the way he's playing. He's practiced really well. It's always a little different getting back in the game, but still, we have a lot of confidence that he'll play well with all the repetitions he's had here preparing.”
Stoops may need his offense to be in top form. Clemson has allowed just 259.6 yards per game (No. 1 in the nation). Dabo Swinney’s squad has also allowed just 17.6 points per game this season, and shutout two opponents, while holding two others to seven points or less.
The Tigers boast several top defensive players, including defensive end Vic Beasley. The senior was named as a first-team All-American and the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, after finishing the regular season with 11 sacks. Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and linebacker Stephone Anthony were also named to the ACC first team, while cornerback Garry Peters was named to the second team.
On offense, the Tigers will be without injured freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson, who threw 14 touchdown passes and just two interceptions this season. Senior Cole Stoudt, who has been plagued by inconsistency this season, will start at quarterback. Stoudt has completed 62 percent of his pass attempts, but has also thrown 10 interceptions this season.
Like the Sooners, the Tigers did not beat a ranked opponent all season, falling to Georgia, Florida State, and Georgia Tech. The Tigers are considered underdogs against the Sooners.
“Whether or not somebody sees us as a favorite to win or not, that's irrelevant to the win,” said Swinney. “We've won a bunch of games when we have been the so-called underdog, and we've lost some games when we were the so-called favorite. So that just really doesn't affect us.”
Start Time: 5:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Point Spread: Oklahoma favored by 4.5 points
Over/Under: 51.5 points
Prediction: Oklahoma over Clemson, 24-21
An IBTimes staff reporter contributed to this report.