James Skalski is getting ready for his fifth College Football Playoff appearance in as many years at Clemson and hopes to help the Tigers finish off this season with their third national championship during his college career.
But while the fifth-year senior linebacker has had a lot of success in the playoff, both of his previous trips to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans did not go the way he or his teammates would have liked.
Three seasons ago, top-ranked Clemson fell to No. 4 Alabama, 24-6, in the CFP semifinal at the Sugar Bowl on January 1, 2018. And then of course, last season, top-seeded LSU defeated the third-ranked Tigers, 42-25, to win the CFP National Championship Game in New Orleans on January 13, 2020.
So, those losses give Skalski a little additional motivation as No. 2 Clemson prepares to face No. 3 Ohio State in the CFP semifinal at the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1 – especially because it will be Skalski’s first time playing in the Superdome since he was forced to exit the field in the second half of last season’s national title game after being ejected for targeting following a hit on LSU wide receiver Justin Jefferson.
“I’m 0-2 in New Orleans, so that kind of lingers in your head,” Skalski admitted on Monday during his press conference previewing the Sugar Bowl vs. the Buckeyes. “You want redemption in that aspect.”
Aside from that, though, Skalski isn’t looking at this season’s Sugar Bowl as an opportunity to avenge last season’s loss to LSU in the Superdome – he is simply appreciative of another chance to play on one of the biggest stages in college football and getting another crack at advancing to the national title game again.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to be in the playoff picture every year I’ve been here,” he said. “So, there’s never really any redemption. Of course, we want to win. But we’re just grateful to be in the playoff again. We don’t care where we play or who we play, we’re just fortunate to be here and excited for the opportunity.”
Clemson is 1-2 all-time in the Superdome, with its lone victory coming against Tulane by a score of 13-5 in 1981.
Of course, that was the year the Tigers won their first national championship, so they are hoping history repeats itself this season with another win in the Superdome that leads to another national title.
But Skalski knows Clemson is in for a challenge against the Buckeyes, particularly against quarterback Justin Fields and an explosive Ohio State offense that features big-time playmakers all over that side of the ball.
“It’s going to be hard,” Skalski said. “You’ve got a Heisman-caliber player in Fields. They’ve got great skill. They’ve got great receivers, they’ve got great tight ends. They’ve got dudes everywhere. So, I think Northwestern did a pretty good job (in the Big Ten Championship Game), and I think Ohio State probably just didn’t play their best. I think that was the main factor. They’re a great team and they’re going to bring it. So, we’ve just got to try to do our job and compete, make competitive plays and put ourselves in a good position.”
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