Sometimes experience is everything, and it is his team’s experience that Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney is counting on when the second-ranked Tigers take on No. 3 Ohio State in the College Football Playoff semifinals at the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Eve.
Though Ohio State won the 2014 College Football Playoff National Championship, most of the 2016 Buckeyes did not experience that ride. The coaching staff has been through it under head coach Urban Meyer, obviously, and they know how to get the team prepared from a schematic standpoint. But when it comes to the leadership and knowing how to act and respond in the locker room and in big games, this will be a new experience with so many freshman and sophomores that contributed for the Buckeyes this year.
As for Clemson, it has plenty of experience to draw from. Twenty-nine players on the Tigers’ two-deep roster played either on offense, defense or special teams during their run to the national championship game.
“I think the experience will certainly help this team and the leadership of this team because they have played in big games.”
Players like Deshaun Watson, Wayne Gallman, Jordan Leggett, Carlos Watkins and Ben Boulware know what it is like to play in games like the 2017 Fiesta Bowl. Boulware, as a freshman, played in the 2014 Orange Bowl win over Ohio State as well as in the Tigers’ blowout victories over Oklahoma the last two years.
In the last two seasons, the Tigers are 8-1 against ranked opponents coming into the game, including Saturday’s win over then No. 18 Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship Game. Playing in big games in the past, and being able to draw from that leadership from guys like Watson and Boulware goes a long way in playoff-like situations.
“This first round is a true bowl game, even though it is technically the playoff. It is still like playing Ohio State in the Orange Bowl a couple of years ago. It is a big game, and everybody wants to win,” Swinney said. “I think our guys have confidence in how we prepare, but there is a little bit extra buzz that comes with the playoff, as opposed to just being in the Orange Bowl or whatever so that will help us as we go through the process.”