NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Clemson coach Tommy Bowden is concerned Kentucky may be a bit more excited than his Tigers about playing the Music City Bowl.
The Wildcats (7-5) surged into Friday's game - their first bowl appearance since 1999 - with four wins in five games and a narrow loss at rival Tennessee, while the Tigers (8-4) limped in with losses in three of their last four.
“Losing your last game puts a bad taste in your mouth,” Bowden said Thursday. “We're going to kind of see how much pride they have. We haven't had to face the skids at the end of the season in a while.”
Nashville - just over 200 miles from Kentucky's home in Lexington - would seem a dream destination for the Wildcat faithful, expected to outnumber the Clemson fans by several thousand at LP Field. Of course, any bowl would have sufficed for a team that hasn't made one in seven years.
Clemson, which has appeared in the postseason 18 times since 1985, had far higher ambitions in mind.
Earlier in the year, the Tigers ascended to No. 10 in the nation and they were being talked about as Bowl Championship Series contenders. They defeated both teams that ultimately played for the Atlantic Coast Conference title, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech.
But late season losses to Virginia Tech, Maryland and in-state rival South Carolina have them in Nashville facing Kentucky instead.
If his players sulk about their tailspin, Bowden warns, it's going to get worse.
“We're real hungry,” Clemson defensive back Mike Hamlin said. “We have to come out and play our best just to make a statement. Everybody is remembered for their last game.”