By Ed McGranahan
History makes this Discover Orange Bowl intriguing for two teams in need of a reset.
Clemson’s second BCS bowl assignment recasts the opponents from the historic 1978 Gator Bowl which launched Danny Ford’s career and ended Woody Hayes’ at Ohio State.
Pride bruised by a decisive loss to South Carolina in the final game of the regular season, Clemson (10-2) returns to Sun Life Stadium ranked 12th in the BCS with a chance to recapture a measure of self respect against No. 7 Ohio State (12-1). ESPN analyst Rece Davis characterized this as a potentially redemptive assignment, describing Clemson’s 10-win season as “hollow.”
“I’m proud of the season that we had,” Swinney said. “What happened the previous 12 games is behind us. It’s a one-game season now.”
Ohio State stood at the doorstep of a potential national championship game, unbeaten over two seasons under Coach Urban Meyer until Saturday night when Michigan State claimed the Big Ten title.
“Everybody was down in the dumps,” Meyer admitted during a conference call Sunday night, but the invitation to play Clemson, “that’s going to wake you up real fast.”
As the higher ranked team in the BCS, Ohio State was designated “home” team. “We’re good,” he said. “We’re ready to go.”
Swinney, too, recognized the restorative benefits of the game. Clemson faces another storied program and a coach with a reputation for building champions, not much different than what Ford faced in his first assignment as a head coach in Jacksonville, Fla., 35 years ago. Swinney called Ohio State “very possibly the best team in the country, a couple plays away from having a chance to prove that.”
This will be Clemson’s 36th appearance in a bowl game and ninth straight, the first against a Big Ten opponent since the 30-0 victory over Illinois in the 1990 Hall of Fame Bowl.
The game features two incendiary offenses and two of the nation’s most dynamic quarterbacks in Tajh Boyd of Clemson and Braxton Miller of Ohio State. David Pollack of ESPN said he thought it could become “one of the more entertaining games we’ll see.”
A finalist for the Unitas Award and the Manning Award, Boyd set 58 Clemson records for passing, scoring and total offense over 39 straight starts. He also owns the ACC career records for touchdown passes (102), passing efficiency (154.6) and touchdowns rushing and passing (127) and is one of three active quarterbacks in the FBS with at least 10,000 career yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing.
Miller, 24-1 as a starter in two seasons, is one of two quarterbacks with at least 5,000 yards passing and 3,000 yards rushing.
Meyer said Clemson’s athleticism at receiver “is ridiculous.” Sammy Watkins, one of three finalists for the Biletnikoff Award, has 85 receptions for 1,237 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Ohio State’s problems defensively against Michigan State requires a sense of urgency, Meyer said. “There are certainly things we’ve got to get fixed and get fixed in a hurry with what’s coming down the road here.”
Scars linger from the Orange Bowl experience two years ago when Clemson was defeated by West Virginia, 70-33. Most prominently Swinney’s decision to fire Kevin Steele and hire defensive coordinator Brent Venables.
“We’re a little bit different team,” Swinney said. Turnovers cost Clemson that day, and they were costly in the losses this season to Florida State and South Carolina. “When we went down there two years ago we had 42 freshmen on that roster.”
Preaching the program’s consistency, Swinney wants to match last season’s 11th victory which came in a remarkable comeback to beat LSU. With the BCS invitation Swinney receives a $75,000 bonus. Victory would be worth another $100,000. He was already eligible for $30,000 after earning 10 wins during the regular season.
“We’ve never had back-to-back 11 win seasons,” he said. “I don’t have any doubt when these guys get back on the field they’ll be excited.”