AccuScore has run more than 10,000 simulations for every bowl game for Yahoo! Sports, calculating how each team's performance changes in response to game conditions, opponent's abilities, roster moves, weather and more. Each game is simulated one play at a time and the game is replayed a minimum of 10,000 times to generate forecasted winning percentages, player statistics and a variety of game-changing scenarios. Here's AccuScore.com's analysis of the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Baseline: Clemson 64%, Auburn 36%; Score: Clemson 28, Auburn 23
After being approached by other schools, both Auburn's Tommy Tubberville and Clemson's Tommy Bowden are staying put and will meet in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. A win would give Clemson their first 10 win season in 17 years and they have a 64 percent probability of doing so. Quarterback Cullen Harper is forecasted to throw for 220 yards and two touchdowns while completing 70% of his passes. The thunder and lightning backfield combination of James Davis and C.J. Spiller should combine for over 150 yards rushing.
Auburn is led by quarterback Brandon Cox who is projected for just 140 yards and a touchdown pass. Cox’s modest numbers means Auburn will need production from the running game and Brad Lester and Ben Tate are projected to combine for 110 yards with one score.
RUNNING BACKS GET THE ATTENTION, CULLEN HARPER IS THE KEY
Both offenses are led by running games. Clemson’s James Davis and C.J. Spiller are putting up better numbers than Auburn’s Brad Lester and Ben Tate, but both duos are effective. AccuScore swapped running back pairs so Davis and Spiller played for Auburn and Lester and Tate ran for Clemson. Switching running backs only changed the overall winning percentages by 2 percentage points for each team.
The real difference makers in this game are the quarterbacks. Many Clemson fans saw Cullen Harper as the team's weak link when he was named the replacement for the departed Will Proctor. They clamored for hotshot recruit Willie Korn to get playing time. Harper quashed any thought of that by throwing for 27 touchdowns and just six interceptions while completing 67 percent of his throws. Korn threw just 11 passes before the decision was made to hold him out and apply for a redshirt.
Harper’s only subpar performance was against Georgia Tech when he was 17-39 for 194 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. Meanwhile, Auburn's Brandon Cox took a statistical step backwards in 2007 completing a lower percentage of his passes and throwing more interceptions than touchdowns for the first time in his four-year career.
In simulations where we swapped quarterbacks, Auburn goes from being the underdog winning just 36 percent of the time to being a 53 percent favorite. Clearly the quarterbacks will make the difference in this bowl game.
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