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Clemson vs. Kentucky: Picks, best bets for Gator Bowl in Jacksonville on Friday

The Tigers and Wildcats head down to Jacksonville to meet for this showdown. Clemson enters the contest as the favorite.

Kentucky v Louisville Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The 2023 TaxSlayer Gator Bowl will take place this afternoon as the No. 22 Clemson Tigers will take on the Kentucky Wildcats at EverBank Stadium in Jacksonville. This game will kick off at noon ET and will air on ESPN.

Clemson (8-4, 4-4 ACC) experienced a down season by its standards this fall, failing to crack 10 wins for the first time since 2010. The Tigers’ year began with a shocking loss at Duke in Week 1 and an overtime loss to Florida State later in the month symbolically served as a changing of the guard moment at the top of the ACC. Entering November with a 4-4 record, Dabo Swinney’s team did rally to win their final four contests. Running backs Phil Mafah and Will Shipley were a two-headed monster on offense while on defense, linebacker Jeremiah Trotter Jr. had a monster year with 87 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and two interceptions.

Kentucky (7-5, 3-5 SEC) has reached a bowl for a program-record eighth straight season, but the year can be considered somewhat of a disappointment considering how the back half of the schedule played out. After beating Florida at the end of September to improve to 5-0, the Wildcats would go on to lose five of their next six contests. However, they would end the season on a positive note by edging rival Louisville in the finale. And they managed to hang on to longtime head coach Mark Stoops after he had a brief flirtation with Texas A&M.

SP+ Rankings

Clemson: 23 overall, 51 offense, 12 defense
Kentucky: 32 overall, 44 offense, 34 defense

List of injuries and players opting out of game

Clemson

WR Beaux Collins – Out (Transfer Portal)
TE Sage Ennis – Out (Transfer Portal)
WR Ronan Hanafin – Questionable (Foot)
QB Hunter Helms – entered the transfer portal (83 yards).
RB Domonique Thomas – Out (Transfer Portal)
WR Antonio Williams – Probable (Toe)
OL Marcus Tate - Questionable (Knee)
WR Brannon Spector - Probable (Undisclosed)

Kentucky

WR Dekel Crowdus – Out (Transfer Portal)
TE Izayah Cummings – Out (Transfer Portal)
RB Ray Davis – Expected to play (NFL Draft)
WR Cole Lanter – Expected to play (Transfer Portal)
RB Jutahn McClain – Expected to play (Transfer Portal)
WR Tayvion Robinson – Expected to play (NFL Draft)
QB Kaiya Sheron – Out (Transfer Portal)
QB Destin Wade – Out (Transfer Portal)
TE Jordan Dingle - Questionable (Undisclosed)
TE Josh Kattus - Questionable (Undisclosed)

ATS/Total

Against The Spread in 2023

Clemson: 6-6 ATS
Kentucky: 6-6 ATS

Total in 2023

Clemson: Over 5-7
Kentuck: Over 8-4

Team Pace

Clemson: 2.31 plays per minute of offense
Kentucky: 1.99 plays per minute of offense

Odds at DraftKings Sportsbook

Spread: Clemson -4.5
Total: 45
Moneyline: Clemson -198, Kentucky +164

Opening line: Clemson -5
Opening total: 46.5

Weather

57 degrees, sunny, 14 MPH winds with 29 MPH wind gusts

Our Best Bet for the Gator Bowl

Under 45

This is a clash of two teams that were stronger on the defensive side of the ball this year and we may be in for a tug of war this afternoon. Kentucky’s offense in particular moved at one of the slowest paces in the entire country and it most likely try to play the possession game with grinding, methodical drives. Even though 45 is a bit low for the total, I’ll still take the under.