Tennessee received a New Year's Six bid after finishing the regular season ranked higher than Power 5 champions Kansas State, Utah, and Clemson. The Volunteers started their regular season with eight consecutive wins, reaching No. 1 in major poll rankings. They then lost two of their final four games, suffering defeats by Georgia and South Carolina. Tennessee entered the bowl with an overall 10–2 record (6–2 in conference).
Clemson received a New Year's Six bid after winning the ACC championship. The Tigers began their season with eight consecutive wins, reaching No. 5 in major poll rankings, then lost two of their final four regular-season games. Their defeats came against Notre Dame and South Carolina. Clemson qualified for the ACC Championship Game, where they defeated North Carolina, 39–10. Clemson entered the bowl with an overall 11–2 record (8–0 in conference).