Although Clemson and Ohio State enter the Jan. 3 Orange Bowl with a combined record of 22-3, coaches Dabo Swinney and Urban Meyer both understand their primary quests -- namely, keeping their teams motivated following disappointing ends to the regular season.
Clemson (10-2) capped its season with a fifth consecutive loss to archrival South Carolina while the Buckeyes (12-1) had its national title hopes dashed with a loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten title game.
"What happened in the previous 12 games is behind us," said Clemson's Swinney, whose team was ranked 12th in the final BCS standings. "Our guys are excited about the postseason. We've never had back-to-back 11-win seasons, so there's a lot of opportunity. We want to play well, we want to represent the ACC well."
Meyer believes his team, ranked seventh in the BCS, will find some incentive as well, despite having a 24-game winning streak snapped by the Spartans.
"They're heartbroken, but they're competitors," Ohio State's Meyer said. "And the fact that we're playing in a BCS game against Clemson will wake you up in a hurry. I have no doubt that we'll be excited to go play in this bowl game."
The Tigers and Buckeyes have met just once, playing in the 1978 Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla. Clemson won that game 17-15, capping the first 11-win season in school history.
But that game was more notable for a couple of other reasons -- it was the first game for young Clemson coach Danny Ford, who would lead the Tigers to their first and only national title three years later, and the final game for Ohio State coach Woody Hayes, who was fired the next morning after punching the Tigers' Charlie Bauman along the Buckeyes' sideline following Bauman's late-game interception.
Thirty-five years later, both teams are hardly recognizable. Clemson and Ohio State both rank among the national scoring leaders with averages of more than 40 points per game. The Tigers boast a prolific passing game while the Buckeyes feature a relentless rushing attack and a pair of 1,000-yard rushers -- one of whom is a quarterback.
"Braxton Miller is a winner," Swinney said. "I mean the guy's lost one game in two years, that's the thing that jumps out at me. He's like a running back that can throw the football. He's just an outstanding player who can beat you in a lot of ways."
Swinney has a potent weapon of his own in senior quarterback Tajh Boyd, and the Orange Bowl could come down to a battle of quarterbacks. Boyd owns 58 school records and ACC marks for career touchdown passes (102), passing efficiency (154.6) and touchdown responsibility (127).
Boyd has a variety of weapons in the passing game, and that may be Meyer's ultimate concern.
"Their quarterback can run and throw, and that makes it difficult," Meyer said. "Their athleticism at receiver is ridiculous."
The Orange Bowl will be Clemson's second BCS bowl berth in three years and its first selection as an at-large team. Ohio State will be making its nation-leading 10th BCS bowl appearance.
"It will be a huge challenge against what might be the best team in the country -- a team that was a couple of plays away from getting the chance to prove that," Swinney said.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--QB Tajh Boyd dictates Clemson's success, much as does Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller. After a sub-par performance in a regular-season ending loss at South Carolina, Boyd would like nothing more than to cap his record-setting career with a strong showing on a national stage. The Orange Bowl will present that opportunity, and a youthful Buckeye secondary that ranks 102nd nationally in pass defense may help him capitalize.
--WR Sammy Watkins is just a junior, but he's also a lock to be a high first-round selection in next April's NFL Draft, so the Orange Bowl is expected to be his going-away party. Watkins enters the game with 85 receptions, which is just four shy of the school record for a season, and nine shy of the school's career reception record of 232 held by Aaron Kelly. A 100-yard game would give Watkins eight this season, extending his own school standard.
--WR Martavis Bryant has been overshadowed by playmaker Watkins, but there's no question that Bryant has made the most of his opportunities, as his 20.5 yards-per-catch average will attest. Bryant is fast and rangy and showed out against Georgia Tech on Nov. 14, catching five passes for 176 yards and a touchdown and catching the eye of 22 NFL scouts who came expecting to be wowed by other players. He's just a junior, but don't be surprised if Bryant seriously ponders a professional jump, particularly if he makes some big plays in the Orange Bowl.
--QB Braxton Miller is the catalyst in the Buckeyes' potent offensive attack, whether he's running or passing. Dual-threat quarterbacks have given Clemson's defense fits in the past, and most recently when South Carolina's Connor Shaw gouged the Tigers for 94 yards rushing just two weeks ago. Miller's strength is his efficiency; he doesn't beat himself with many mistakes, as evidenced by his 22-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio, but he may be most effective when he's giving the Buckeyes yet another threat in the running game.
--RB Carlos Hyde has been the workhorse in the Buckeyes' ground game and one would expect nothing to change in the Orange Bowl. He's a load to bring down, a 1,400-yard rusher who during one stretch this season had four consecutive 100-yard games, all against Big Ten opponents. But if anything, Hyde wasn't used enough in the Buckeyes' loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten title game, carrying just 18 times for 118 yards. Expect him to get 25 carries against Clemson.
--LB Ryan Shazier led Ohio State in tackles with 134 this season and was a finalist for the Butkus Award. He's a throwback type of linebacker -- fierce, hard-hitting and instinctual and a leader by example on the Buckeyes' rugged run defense. If Clemson can't get him blocked in the Orange Bowl, it's doubtful that the Tigers' Roderick McDowell will find much daylight.
BOWL HISTORY: Clemson is 17-18 all-time in bowl games, and the Tigers' 17 bowl victories rank 18th in college football history. Clemson has played in a bowl game in 25 of the last 29 years, with their most recent triumph a 25-24 win against LSU in last year's Chick-fil-A Bowl.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Getting to another BCS bowl game is very important for our program. It shows that we've developed some consistency the last three years." -- Clemson coach Dabo Swinney on his team earning a trip to the Orange Bowl for the second time in three years.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Scouting the running game: Clemson senior running back Roderick "Hot Rod" McDowell enters the game just 44 yards shy of a 1,000-yard season. If he accomplishes that feat, he'll give the Tigers a 1,000-yard rusher for a third consecutive year for the first time in school history. Of course that may be easier said than done against a strong Ohio State defensive front that limits opponents to just over 100 yards per game and 3.1 yards per attempt. Clemson, meanwhile, will have its much-improved front seven severely tested by an Ohio State rushing attack that ranks fourth nationally at 317.5 yards per game. Burly senior Carlos Hyde is the star of the Buckeyes' power ground game and became coach Urban Meyer's first 1,000-yard running back in a big way this season, bulling his way for 1,408 yards. As if slowing Hyde wasn't concern enough, quarterback Braxton Miller added 1,033 yards on the ground this season, making the Buckeyes one of the nation's toughest teams to defend.
Scouting the passing game: Ohio State quarterback Miller hasn't had to pass much this season, but he's been highly effective and efficient when he's gone to the air. Miller passed for 1,860 yards and 22 touchdowns with just five interceptions, resulting in a 157.9 passing efficiency that ranked 14th nationally. Corey Brown and Devin Smith are the primary weapons, with both players amassing 655 yards receiving this season. Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd is blessed with several playmaking receivers, but the best of the bunch is junior Sammy Watkins, a super-fast junior with breakaway speed and an uncanny ability to snatch passes. Fellow junior Martavis Bryant also is a big-play threat with NFL size while junior Adam Humphrey is a reliable option. Boyd will have to be on his game, because he's shown a penchant for getting rattled, particularly if things take a negative turn early in the game.
Scouting the run defense: Both Clemson and Ohio State feature talented front sevens, so it'll be interesting to see who emerges as the best against the run. Ohio State's unit is youthful, but extremely talented. The Buckeyes are led by sophomore defensive tackle Noah Spence, who leads the team with eight sacks, and junior linebacker Ryan Shazier, who paces the Buckeyes in tackles (134) and tackles for loss (22.5). Clemson's run defense is anchored by a similar pair -- defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and linebacker Spencer Shuey. Shuey leads the Tigers with 84 tackles while Jarrett ranks as one of top penetrators in the ACC. At 235 pounds, Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde will provide a big challenge, but Clemson has fared well against two big backs this season, holding the nation's leading rusher -- Boston College's Andre Williams -- to just 70 yards, and South Carolina's Mike Davis to only 22 yards on 15 carries. But the Tigers have been susceptible to running quarterbacks in the past, so keep an eye on the Buckeyes' Miller.
Scouting the pass defense: Ohio State's secondary is significantly less proven than Clemson's, as evidenced by the Buckeyes ranking 102nd nationally in passing yardage defense. Cornerbacks Bradley Roby and Doren Grant and safety C.J. Barnett each have three interceptions this season, but that may be more of an indication of opponents' willingness to capitalize on the Buckeyes' perceived weakness. If Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd gets in a groove and all of his receivers get involved, Ohio State could be in for a long night in the secondary. Clemson's pass defense isn't spectacular, but it has shown considerable improvement. The Tigers have rotated some youthful talent into the secondary and that has resulted in more depth than at any time in coach Dabo Swinney's five-plus seasons. Junior cornerback Bashaud Breeland and senior cornerback Darius Robinson are the best of the bunch, but overlook freshman safety Jayron Kearse, who has filled in admirably for the injured Travis Blanks. The Tigers enter the Orange Bowl ranked 15th nationally in pass defense, surrendering just 198 yards per game.
Scouting the special teams: Clemson couldn't feel better about its kicking game, what with senior Chandler Catanzaro on hand. Catanzaro has been near-perfect over the past two seasons and has converted 13 of 14 field goal attempts this season, including a career-long 51-yarder. Sammy Watkins has been serviceable as Clemson's return man on kickoffs, but has yet to break one for score this season while punt return specialist Adam Humphries has averaged more than 10 yards per return, but is coming off a game in which he fumbled two punt returns. Ohio State boasts a real return threat in Dontre Wilson, who averages just under 25 yards per return on kickoffs. The Buckeyes also have to feel confident in their kicker, Drew Basil. Basil has made 9-of-10 attempts this season.
--Clemson S Travis Blanks is out with a torn ACL suffered Nov. 23 against The Citadel.
--Ohio State DB Bradley Roby, who suffered a leg injury against Michigan State, is expected to play in the Orange Bowl.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Dabo Swinney
- Urban Meyer
- Braxton Miller