Clemson's Swinney not projecting ‘a 6-3 game’ vs. Vols in Orange Bowl

Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee football coach Josh Heupel, left, and Clemson counterpart Dabo Swinney pose during Wednesday’s Orange Bowl news conference in Miami.

The Clemson Tigers have one of college football's top 25 scoring offenses, averaging 34.7 points per game.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney isn't sure that clip will cut it against Tennessee in the Orange Bowl.

"If you're playing Tennessee, you better score," Swinney said Wednesday afternoon. "If we don't score, we've got no chance, because these guys not only score a lot of points, but they score real fast. They do an amazing job, and they score on everybody.

"I don't think it will be a 6-3 game. I don't know if 35 will be enough for the Tigers."

Swinney and Volunteers coach Josh Heupel were in Miami for a news conference to promote the Dec. 30 showdown inside Hard Rock Stadium. Tennessee, after a 10-2 regular season, was No. 6 in the final College Football Playoff rankings Sunday, while Clemson wound up No. 7 after improving to 11-2 with Saturday night's 39-10 thumping of North Carolina in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.

The Vols lead the nation with 538.1 yards and 47.3 points per contest, but Heupel has never been one to project scoring totals before a pairing.

"Every game takes on its own identity," Heupel said, "and Clemson has one of the best defenses in the country."

The Tigers rank 24th nationally in total defense, allowing 331.3 yards per game, while the Vols are yielding 398.8 to rank 85th among the 131 Football Bowl Subdivision teams.

Heupel and Swinney took turns answering questions for roughly 20 minutes, and ultimately the topic turned to the two orange-clad uniforms. Swinney said the Tigers plan to wear orange helmets with white jerseys and orange pants.

"Our guys pick the uniform every week," Heupel said when it was his turn, "and I'm sure there will be a ton of orange in it."

The Orange Bowl has the highest-rated matchup in the CFP standings of teams not in the four-team playoff. The Vols were No. 1 in the first CFP rankings after racing out to an 8-0 start and were still in the chase at 9-1 before losing 63-38 at South Carolina on Nov. 19.

Shane Beamer's Gamecocks would also derail Clemson's playoff hopes with a 31-30 win in Death Valley on Nov. 26.

"This game will be an awesome game," Swinney said. "To me, this is a playoff game, and in a couple of years, it will be a playoff game. Both of these teams have been in the mix for the playoff all year, and both have had great years.

"What Josh has done at Tennessee is incredible. I grew up watching Tennessee, and he has made Tennessee Tennessee again."

Clemson is making its fourth Orange Bowl trip in 12 years, while Tennessee is making its first journey since the 1997 season, when Peyton Manning's final game as quarterback for the Vols resulted in a 42-17 loss to Nebraska.

It's an appealing clash that both sides plan to take seriously.

"The postseason is always significant," Swinney said. "Only four teams get to go to the playoff, and there are 131 teams, so this is an opportunity to compete at the highest level. This is the Orange Bowl."

Said Heupel: "It's something you're going to remember for the rest of your life. These kids get one more opportunity to do it together against a great opponent."

Portal additions

The Vols landed two players through the transfer portal Wednesday, receiving commitments from former UC Davis tight end McCallan Castles and former Indiana kicker Charles Campbell.

Castles, a 6-foot-5, 233-pounder from South Lake Tahoe, California, began his career at Cal before transferring. He amassed 30 catches for 347 yards and two touchdowns this season as a redshirt junior.

Campbell is using the extra COVID year to come home to the Volunteer State after playing in high school at the University School of Jackson. He made 14 of 20 field-goal attempts this season for the Hoosiers (4-8) and connected on a 51-yarder in overtime for a 33-30 win over Western Kentucky on Sept. 17.

Hooker sweeps

Sixth-year senior quarterback Hendon Hooker was named Wednesday as the Southeastern Conference offensive player of the year by the league coaches. Hooker was named the league's offensive player of the year earlier this week by the Associated Press.

The Vols had four first-team selections with Hooker, receiver Jalin Hyatt, right tackle Darnell Wright and edge rusher Byron Young.

Odds and ends

Young has accepted an invitation to play in the Senior Bowl, which will be held Feb. 4, 2023, in Mobile, Alabama. The 6-3, 245-pounder played two seasons for the Vols after transferring from Georgia Military College, compiling 34 tackles with a team-high 10 tackles for loss and five sacks this year. ... Georgia and Michigan are the finalists for the Joe Moore Award as college football's top offensive line, with the Vols having been among the nine semifinalists.

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