Tennessee football wants revenge for the 2003 Peach Bowl loss to Clemson. The Vols will get their shot at head coach Dabo Swinney and the Tigers in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 30 at 8 p.m. Eastern time on ESPN.

Tennessee vs. Clemson preview

This year’s Orange Bowl can be taken quite literally.

The No. 6 Tennessee Vols take on No. 7 Clemson in a game both sides have wanted to see for some time. The 2 campuses are just over 100 miles away from each other and have gone head to head in recruiting for some time, most recently for the services of star QB Trevor Lawrence, WR Tee Higgins and OL Trey Smith, among other top recruits.

Clemson has usually had the significant advantage on the gridiron, though. The Tigers are recent national champions and mainstays in the AP and CFP top 10 across the past few seasons. But Tennessee, with the right arm of Hendon Hooker, head coach Josh Heupel and a high-flying offense, has made itself relevant once more in 2022. Tennessee was ranked No. 1, with Clemson No. 4, in the initial CFP rankings this season, though South Carolina made sure neither made the postseason.

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And the Vols’ offense is terrifying for opposing defenses. Tennessee has put up big numbers on every team it has played this season bar Georgia. However, things may get difficult down Hooker, Biletnikoff winner Jalin Hyatt and star receiver Cedric Tillman. Not to mention, star linebacker and one of the leaders of Tennessee’s defense, Jeremy Banks, will miss Friday’s action as well.

Thankfully for Tennessee fans, Clemson will be missing a few stars of its own to even the playing field. Myles Murphy and Trenton Simpson, 2 of Clemson’s top defensive starters, will miss the Orange Bowl; Murphy to the NFL Draft and Simpson due to injury.

Then there’s the QB situation for both teams. Clemson’s regular-season starter DJ Uiagalelei announced he was transferring to Oregon State last week, leaving talented freshman Cade Klubnik with the reins of the offense on Friday.

That doesn’t mean Friday will be a walk in the park, though. Klubnik, a former 5-star recruit, has looked promising in his handful of appearances this season. He’s totaled 377 passing yards with 2 touchdowns and 1 interception across 46 passing attempts.

Joe Milton gets the start for Tennessee in a game that is perhaps his most important as a Vol. He needs to prove he can be the QB of the immediate future for Tennessee football and can make quite the impression against No. 7 Clemson. Of course, this is with 5-star freshman Nico Iamaleava and potential transfer quarterbacks on the way in 2023.

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Milton has had a better season than Klubnik based on experience alone. He’s totaled 720 passing yards and 7 touchdowns with 0 interceptions on 54 attempts so far this year.

Tennessee vs. Clemson prediction

Tennessee is missing a lot of production on offense, the very unit that makes it so dangerous. But that doesn’t mean it’s all of a sudden lacking weapons.

Winning really depends on the right arm of Joe Milton III. If he’s a superstar and out-duels Klubnik, Tennessee has enough talent in young star Squirrel White, Tennessee’s No. 2 option Bru McCoy and reliable veteran Ramel Keyton. Tennessee’s offensive line is intact too and can spring Jabari Small, Jaylen Wright and Dylan Sampson.

Even without those weapons, Tennessee’s system is dangerous for a Clemson squad missing 2 of its top 3 defenders.

Prediction: Tennessee 34, Clemson 31