Most of the time, it’s no big deal being a Clemson Tiger in the heart of Volunteer country.
The University of Tennessee has its shade of orange, and we’ve got ours. They like the taste of deep-fried Gamecock almost as much as we do. In essence, it’s as if they are our SEC cousins on the other side of the Appalachians.
But we’re going to have to set all that aside on December 30 when the Tigers play the Vols in Miami in the Capital One Orange Bowl.
Both teams have something to prove. Clemson has become accustomed to victory but struggled at times this year, while Tennessee is hoping for a triumphant end to a promising season.
We spoke to three hardy souls, all Clemson doctoral graduates who work at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) near Knoxville, about how they are holding up in the weeks before the Orange Bowl matchup. ORNL is a national lab established in 1943 where more than 5,800 scientists, engineers and researchers work to deliver scientific discoveries and technical breakthroughs on energy and national security.
The Clemson Family will be happy to hear that a small but determined alumni network at ORNL is firmly planting paw prints across the Volunteers’ side of the hills. It comes at a cost: Our feline brothers and sisters pay the price as the targets of good-natured ribbing.
Kathryn Peruski, an R&D associate radiochemist/radiochemical engineer, said Vols fever is running high, and she has heard her share of smack talk.
“A lot of people know I went to Clemson,” said Peruski, who received the 2018-19 Hitachi High Technologies Electron Microscopy Fellowship when she was at Clemson. “I have a lot of Clemson memorabilia in my office. They tell me I’m wearing the wrong orange, or that the Clemson Tigers, because they are in the ACC, haven’t played good teams, and they don’t think that Clemson is going to match up against UT.”
All that is opinion and speculation, of course. Fortunately, Peruski can retort with facts.
Clemson has been one of college football’s most dominant teams for the better part of a decade and has won two NCAA National Championships since 2016, and three since 1981. The Vols have been spottier, with more losses than wins in four of the last 10 seasons and only a 1998 National Championship to show in recent decades.
Both teams have been hurt by players opting out of the Orange Bowl for various reasons, but it appears that Tennessee has been cut deeper, with Vols star wide receiver Jalin Hyatt deciding to enter the NFL draft, adding to the loss of elite quarterback Hendon Hooker to an ACL knee injury.
The Ultimate Orange Bowl
Clemson University (11-2, ranked No. 7)
Location: Clemson, South Carolina (population: 17,986)
Enrollment: 28,466 students (22,566 undergraduates, 5,900 graduate students)
Colors: Clemson Orange, Regalia
Mascot: The Tiger
Football record since 2012: 132-19
University of Tennessee, Knoxville (10-2, ranked No. 6)
Location: Knoxville, Tennessee (population: 192,648)
Enrollment: 33,805 students (27,039 undergraduates, 6,766 graduate students)
Colors: Tennessee Orange, White, Smokey Gray
Football record since 2012: 72-63
•The last meeting between Clemson and Tennessee was a 27-14 Tigers win at the 2004 Peach Bowl.
•Tennesee leads the all-time series between the schools, with a record of 11-6-2.
•This will only be the third game between Clemson and Tennessee since 1976.
Ben Manard, an analytical chemist, said the game has been a big topic between him and Tennessee fans.
“Everyone is saying what do you want to wager on the game? Should we bet a dinner or something?” he said. “Of course, the text messages started flooding in on Selection Sunday. People are already saying, ‘We should watch the game together.’ A lot of my co-workers are grads from UT, and so it is nice to heckle them and go back and forth.”
Naturally, the football frenzy is all for fun. The reality is that the two universities, both nestled in foothills on opposite sides of the mountains, feel like kindred spirits, alumni said.
Both have great outdoor cultures with mountains and lakes, and vibrant midsize cities, Greenville on the south side of the mountains and Knoxville on the north, Peruski said. Breweries and restaurants that start in Asheville, North Carolina, often expand to the Greenville and Knoxville markets next.
Connor Parker, a postdoctoral researcher, said that when he goes out on Tennessee game days, he is amazed at the number of lighter-shade-of-orange-clad fans flooding Knoxville.
“It’s pretty neat how it’s a very similar culture,” he said. “The only thing that would make this bowl game better is if it were at UT or Clemson because I feel like both teams travel well and have a similar spirit.”
With so much in common, it’s no wonder Tigers and Vols collaborate on a wide range of projects at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Among them is Manard’s research with his former adviser, Ken Marcus, a professor of analytical chemistry at Clemson. They focus on new types of instruments that can do isotopic analysis, a technology that is aimed at helping prevent the misuse of nuclear material.
Manard, who received his Ph.D. in analytical chemistry in 2014, returned to Clemson to give a seminar about two years later. He and Marcus wrote a proposal together that is funding their current research.
“Ken Marcus taught me so much — how to be a hard and dedicated worker and a problem-solver,” Manard said. “Those are the two things that he emphasized with us in the laboratory during my time there.”
Peruski graduated in 2020 with her Ph.D. in environmental engineering and earth sciences and served as a postdoctoral researcher at Oak Ridge before accepting her staff position. She stays in touch with her adviser, Brian Powell, the Fjeld Professor in Nuclear Environmental Engineering and Science.
When Powell won Clemson’s Class of ’39 Award for Excellence, Peruski helped spread the word with a LinkedIn post. She continues to look for opportunities to collaborate with her alma mater.
Parker also studied under Powell, has completed his research and is now publishing the final chapters of his dissertation.
When Parker graduated in May with his doctorate in environmental engineering and earth sciences, he and Powell celebrated with a blood-orange saison that Powell crafts once a year.
And there it was again, the color. Orange.
Parker was asked if it were a sign.
“Yeah,” he said, “that means Clemson is going to win the Orange Bowl.”
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