By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
Perhaps of all the bowl games this bowl season, especially the Bowl Championship Series games, no game will be more about what the two teams did to close the regular season than the 80th Annual Discover Orange Bowl between 12th-ranked Clemson and No. 7 Ohio State.
Clemson is coming off a 31-17 loss at the hands of rival South Carolina, while the Buckeyes are fresh off Saturday night’s 34-24 defeat to Michigan State in the Big 10 Championship Game.
“They’re heartbroken, but they’re competitors and also, I think, playing in a BCS Bowl against Clemson is going to wake you up real fast,” Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said late Sunday night on a conference call.
Meyer feels his squad is not going to have any residual effects from their loss to the Spartans and that they will be excited to play in the Orange Bowl.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney has been answering that same question in each of his five seasons with the Tigers. In the previous four years after losing to South Carolina, Clemson has rallied to beat SEC foes Kentucky (2009 Music City Bowl) and LSU (2012 Chick-fil-A Bowl), while suffering a loss to South Florida (2010 Meineke Car Care Bowl).
The Tigers also beat Virginia Tech—the No. 3 team in the country at the time—in the ACC Championship Game in 2011 following a loss to the Gamecocks. They followed that up, though, with a big thud in the Orange Bowl against West Virginia.
“It’s just time to get back to work,” Swinney said. “Our guys are excited about the postseason. We had a 10-2 regular season with a couple of tough losses, but we are trying to get that 11th win. We have never had back-to-back 11-win seasons. There is a lot of opportunity.”
That opportunity for Ohio State is a 13th win and too finish the season strong, while the Tigers want to close the year the same way they did last season when they knocked off then No. 7 LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Like that game, Clemson is sure to be a huge underdog in what is just its second BCS Bowl.
“We wanted to play well and represent the ACC well,” Swinney said. “It’s going to take a lot of great preparation, but these guys had a little bit of time off last week since they weren’t in the championship game. We (the coaches) are all on the road as well, but we will get back to practicing later this weekend and I don’t have any doubt by the time these guys get back on the field, they’ll be excited.”
The Tigers are excited because they will be playing an Ohio State team that was only a few plays away from playing for a national championship.
“This quite possibly is the best team in the country and they were just a couple of plays away from getting the chance to prove that,” Swinney said. “This is a huge challenge for us and I don’t have any doubt that our players will be very focused.”
And that is where the biggest challenge lies ahead for Meyer. He has to convince his team that playing in the Orange Bowl is just as big a deal as playing in the national championship game. He has to make his team see it the way Swinney is going to present it to his team. In other words, it is not an easy task.
“College football is so different, even more than pro football, because we are dealing with 18 to 22 year olds. Momentum is an extremely valuable thing,” Meyer said. “When you lose a game, it is difficult. But I have great confidence. This team and a lot of these players have been through a lot of stuff.
“Last year they won 12 games and we unable to go play in a bowl game. Now, when they have their first chance to play in one, they are in a BCS game against a great team so I’m not worried, okay, I am worried because I worry about everything. But this group of kids wants to go win a bowl game and win their 13th game so they will work extra hard to go get that.”