JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — This time last year Da'Quan Bowers had just finished his senior season at tiny Bamberg-Ehrhardt High School.
Fast forward one year and the highly touted true freshman showed everyone why he was rated ESPN's No. 1 target for college coaches.
Bowers was named Clemson's MVP by the media for his performance against Nebraska in Thursday's Gator Bowl.
Bowers had a career-high three tackles for loss and was in on five total tackles. He is the first freshman to be named MVP of a bowl game since James Davis in the Champs Sports Bowl in 2005 against Colorado.
"You want your guys to be playing their best ball at the end to the season and he certainly is," said Clemson co-defensive coordinator David Blackwell. "The expectations were so high on this kid that is was almost unrealistic to live up to them. He has become one of our leaders on this defense and we are excited about what he can do next year."
"I feel like I have learned a lot from the first game until now," Bowers said. "This offseason will be different, because I feel like I know what to expect. Our team is going to work hard to be better next season. That will start next week."
Nebraska defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh was a consensus All-Big 12 first-team defensive tackle.
He showed the Tigers exactly why on Thursday.
Suh recorded a team-high eight tackles and blocked a Mark Buchholz field goal attempt in the first half. Suh, a junior, also had two sacks for a loss of 19 yards.
"I expect that from myself every day, whether it is practice or a game," Suh said.
Suh has been rumored to be interested in leaving Nebraska a year early to enter the NFL draft.
"I have a year of school to finish and I want to come back and play for (Nebraska coach) Bo (Pelini)," Suh said. "I love playing for these coaches."
Steele to Clemson?
An Alabama Internet site has Crimson Tide assistant coach Kevin Steele coming to Clemson as the Tigers' defensive coordinator.
Steele, a native of Dillon, has most recently been the associate head coach/head defensive coach and linebackers coach at Alabama.
Steele, who reportedly could earn as much as $400,000 a season with the Tigers, was the head coach at Baylor, where he was 9-36 from 1999-2002.
"We'll have an announcement when we get back to Clemson," said Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney.
Kelly sets record
It was a bittersweet afternoon for Clemson wide receiver Aaron Kelly.
Kelly finished his career with just about every major receiving mark in Clemson history. But Kelly didn't get the one thing he wanted Thursday — a Gator Bowl victory.
"I guess when I'm old and have kids I can look back fondly on my legacy here," Kelly said. "But right now it hurts because you want to win."
Kelly finished his career with 232 receptions for 2,743 yards and 20 TDs — all Clemson records.
Davis comes up short
Clemson running back James Davis needed 112 yards to break Raymond Priester's career record of rushing yardage. Davis mustered only 26 yards on 12 carries.
"It is a little disappointing," Davis said "We fought till the end and our guys never gave up. I appreciate everything that my linemen and teammates did for me."
Spiller to weigh options
C.J. Spiller said after the game that he's not sure what he'll do next season. Spiller, a junior, can opt to leave school early and enter the NFL draft.
"I'm going to sit down with my family and make a decision," Spiller said.
Spiller's 182 all-purpose yards in the Gator Bowl gave him 4,908 for his career.
Spiller became Clemson's career leader in all-purpose yards. The junior broke the record of 4,839 previously held by Derrick Hamilton, who played from 2001 - 2003.
"My gut tells me he'll stay in school," Davis said. "I talked to him and told him he would be the feature back and he would get the ball a lot. I think it would be smart to come back, but he has to make the best decision for himself."
This and that
--Clemson has a 15-16 bowl record. Nebraska is now 23-22 in bowl games. The Tigers are 4-5 in the Gator Bowl.
--Until Mark Buchholz's 20-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Suh, Buchholz had gone 141 straight kicks without a block.
--Prior to DeAndre McDaniel's second-quarter fumble return for a touchdown, the Gator Bowl had not had a fumble returned for a TD since Clemson's Chester McGlockton against West Virginia in 1989.
--The Tigers had zero fumble return yards before McDaniel's 28-yard fumble return for a touchdown.
Clemson's last fumble return for a touchdown was Gaines Adams' 66-yard return versus Wake Forest in 2006.
--When Nebraska's Quentin Castille broke off a 56-yard run in the third quarter it tied the longest run for the Cornhuskers this season.
--Nebraska's Joe Ganz threw for 236 yards versus the Tiger defense, the second most yards this year. The most was The Citadel with 338.