Gator Bowl: Clemson vs. Kentucky Expert Pick and Prediction – December 29, 2023
GATOR BOWL: CLEMSON VS. KENTUCKY EXPERT PICK AND PREDICTION – December 29, 2023 — Is it time to buy on Clemson? Dabo Swinney’s made this case for the past month, as the Tigers have ripped off four wins and covered in all of them since his speech. Swinney’s stubborn refusal to use the transfer portal seemed to be an albatross at Clemson, but he’s now looking a lot better after salvaging the season.
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Kentucky didn’t get better as the season went on; it got exposed. The Wildcats started 5-0 against a soft schedule where their best win was Florida, but the rest of the schedule turned into a disaster. Georgia, Alabama and Missouri all crushed Kentucky, and the Cats came up short against South Carolina and Tennessee. Only Mississippi State and Louisville fell to Kentucky after September, a disappointing end to what had been a fine start.
Given that 7-5 used to be a cause for celebration in Lexington, it’s a different feeling for Kentucky to come into a bowl disappointed. But the Wildcats aren’t exactly thrilled to have landed here, while the Tigers seem to have a point to prove. If Clemson keeps that mindset, the Tigers could have a big edge.
(8-4 SU, 6-6 ATS)
(7-5 SU, 6-6 ATS)
When: Friday, December 29th at Noon EST
Where: EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Fla.
Public Bets: 62% on Kentucky
Public Money: 84% on Kentucky
Odds courtesy of DraftKings, as of December 26th, 2023.
Clemson vs. Kentucky In-Season Trends
When the public turned their eyes from Clemson, the Tigers took off. Clemson covered four straight to end the year, going just 6-6 ATS in the process. However, there is some cause for concern there. The Tigers’ glittering finish obscures the fact that they didn’t leave the state of South Carolina after Oct. 28. For the year, Clemson went 5-2 ATS in the Palmetto State and just 1-4 outside its borders.
Kentucky seemed to play to the level of its competition each week. The Wildcats went 4-1 ATS in the early stretch when they were pasting everyone, but after the 5-0 start, the only covers were the two games they won against Mississippi State and Louisville.
For Kentucky, 24 has been the magic number: they’re 7-1 when they get there and 0-4 when they fall short.
This one might be good to live bet for one reason: the wind could turn nasty at the end of the game. The temperature will be a mild 57 degrees in north Florida, but breezes of up to 30 miles per hour are set to arrive in Jacksonville by the afternoon. When we get to the fourth quarter, it might not be a bad idea to fade a team that needs a field goal if it’s driving into the wind.
Can Ray Davis find holes in the Clemson front seven? The Tigers are missing Jeremiah Trotter Jr., which takes away one of their best tacklers, and Davis is the rare player who chose to declare for the draft but end his season the right way by finishing what he started in the bowl game. Davis rushed for 1,383 yards and 20 touchdowns on the year, giving Kentucky a genuine weapon in this game.
Clemson will also rely on the ground game, as Will Shipley averaged at least five yards per carry in the Tigers’ final three games of the season. Only once did Clemson lose with Shipley getting at least five yards a carry, and that happened because Clemson blew its game at Duke with three turnovers.
Kentucky’s run game should keep this interesting, but the Tigers have been the more consistent team throughout the past month. The Wildcats had the personnel to deal with Louisville, but Clemson’s offense is more consistent and should be able to win what’s likely a low-scoring affair.
For me, the best bet on the board is the under. If I play the spread, I’m backing Clemson.