Two teams that started the year in the preseason top-10 meet Wednesday to finish the season as No. 19 Clemson and Iowa State play in the Cheez-It Bowl in Orlando, Florida. After entering the season ranked No. 3 in the nation, Clemson lost matchups against No. 3 Georgia, No. 12 Pitt and No. 18 NC State to fall out of the College Football Playoff race. However, the Tigers still have a shot to win 10 games for the 11th straight season.
Iowa State had an even more disappointing season after finishing with the Big 12’s best record in 2020. The Cyclones’ close game luck flipped as they lost four games by one score, including frustrating matchups against Oklahoma and Big 12 champ Baylor. Star running back Breece Hall will not play for the Cyclones against Clemson as he prepares for the NFL Draft.
Clemson and Iowa State have never played against each other as the Cyclones have just 17 bowl appearances in program history. However, a win over Clemson would still be a big moment for the Cyclones, even if it’s not the kind of statement they hoped for while entering the year.
Clemson vs. Iowa State: Need to know
Clemson’s new era: After nearly unparalleled consistency over the past decade, Clemson enters the Cheez-It Bowl without offensive coordinator Tony Elliott and defensive coordinator Brent Venables after both left for Power Five head-coaching jobs at Virginia and Oklahoma, respectively. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has been the face of the success, but his consistency will be put to the test after Brandon Streeter and Wesley Goodwin were promoted internally to run the offense and defense, respectively.
QB mismatch: In any year over the past decade, there would have been a massive quarterback mismatch — in Clemson’s favor. However, redshirt freshman D.J. Uiagalelei struggled mightily in his first season as starter, ranking last in the ACC in passer rating. ISU senior Brock Purdy has been mistake prone at times but completed 73.1% of his passes for 2,984 yards and 18 touchdowns to cap off his Cyclones career. With a strong performance against Clemson’s highly-rated defense, Purdy can play his way into the middle of the NFL Draft.
Battle of cultures: Clemson was in the midst of a transition after losing Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne to the NFL Draft. Conversely, Iowa State hoped 2021 could be a culmination season with key senior contributors back on both sides of the ball, including linebacker Mike Rose and Purdy. The 2021 bowl game will help give some insight into the future of both of these programs as depth will have to show out.
How to watch Cheez-It Bowl live
Game: Cheez-It Bowl
Date: Wednesday, Dec. 29 | Time: 5:45 p.m. ET
Location: Camping World Stadium — Orlando, Florida
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Cheez-It Bowl prediction, picks
Clemson is playing its best football at the right time after winning seven of its last eight to close the season. The only losses on the schedule were against ranked opponents, including ACC champion Pitt. Iowa State has bad losses to Texas Tech and West Virginia in the last month of the season. There’s no telling how the Cyclones will respond, especially after multiple key defensive players entered the transfer portal. Prediction: Clemson (-1)
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