Gator Bowl Preview

Where: Jacksonville, Fla.

When: Mon., Jan. 1, 12:30 p.m. ET (NBC)

Payout: $1.4 million

Teams’ Bowl Performances Last Year:

Virginia Tech lost to Florida State 46-29 in the Sugar Bowl Clemson lost to Mississippi State 17-7 in the Peach Bowl

What to Watch For

Expect a shootout in this year’s Gator Bowl, when Clemson’s Woody Dantzler, an agile and athletic quarterback with a surefire arm, goes against another thrilling quarterback he is often compared to: Virginia Tech’s Michael Vick.

Vick dazzled a national audience in last year’s championship game against Florida State as a freshman and was considered a lock for the Heisman Trophy heading into this season. But a sprained ankle and a 41-21 rout by Miami extinguished both Vick’s hopes for the Heisman and the 10-1 Hokies’ goal of an undefeated season and return to the national championship.

Vick should always be considered dangerous in the pocket, but he appeared less invincible this season, throwing for 1,234 yards and 8 touchdowns while completing just 54 percent of his passes. A speedy, smart runner, Vicks also rushed for 8 touchdowns and averaged 61.7 yards per game on the ground.

However, the sophomore is becoming somewhat of a distraction for the Hokies; after vowing to return to Virginia Tech next season, Vick said Wednesday he just might enter the NFL draft after all. It will be interesting to see whether Vick’s indecisiveness about his future has any affect on him or his teammates at the Gator Bowl.

Like Vick last season, Clemson’s Dantzler surprised many with his exciting style of play and is being mentioned as a possible Heisman Trophy candidate next year. The junior quarterback threw for 1,691 yards and 10 touchdowns, usually hitting favorite receiver Rod Gardner, who had 51 catches for 968 yards. Dantzler also rushed for 947 yards and 13 touchdowns, making him a big playmaker in and out of the pocket — like Vick.

Also watch for the stingy Clemson rushing defense, which allowed just 101.8 yards per game, to be a big factor in this game. The unit, led by linebacker Keith Adams, will face the outstanding Virginia Tech tailback Lee Suggs. The sophomore set a Big East record by running for a nation-leading 27 touchdowns and logged a school-record 1,207 yards rushing.

Running the ball for Clemson will be junior tailback Travis Zachery. His 1,012 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns helped Clemson lead the ACC in rushing this year.

Clemson’s weakest spots are its kicking game and its passing defense, which gave up 238 yards a game and is ranked 97th out of 115 teams. If the Tigers hope to stay close in this game, they will need their defensive backs to do a better job of shutting down Virginia Tech’s high-powered offense than it did against Florida State and Georgia Tech.