Ohio State (12-1) vs. Clemson (10-2)
Jan. 3, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Clemson and Ohio State players began the season hoping to ring in the New Year with warm weather, but they had their sights set on the West Coast, not the East Coast. Both programs were focused on the BCS title game in Pasadena when the 2013 season kicked off, but disappointing losses sent those hopes out the window at different points during the season. For the Tigers, a home loss to Florida State on Oct. 19 kicked them from the national spotlight even before they lost to South Carolina in the regular-season finale. The Buckeyes, on the other hand, remained very much in the BCS title picture before coach Urban Meyer’s team fell to a stingy Michigan State squad in the Big Ten Championship Game. The crystal football is out of reach for both programs, but the game's gods took care of the warm weather by pairing the two teams in the Orange Bowl in Miami.
Ohio State and Clemson are no strangers to the BCS. The Buckeyes have five BCS victories, tied for most all-time with USC and Florida, while the Tigers are making their second Orange Bowl appearance in three seasons. While Clemson faced Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston and the Seminoles’ high scoring offense earlier this season, the Buckeyes have yet to line up against a team as prolific as the Tigers. In fact, only two other teams on Ohio State's schedule – Indiana (No. 17) and Wisconsin (No. 25) – cracked the top 25 in scoring offense in 2013. Meanwhile, Clemson hasn’t been able to pass the major tests on its own schedule. There should be plenty of touchdowns in a game where both offenses come in averaging better than 40 points per contest.
Points of interest
1. Under center: Few programs have enjoyed as much stability at quarterback over the past couple of years as the Tigers and the Buckeyes. Clemson's Tajh Boyd, a three-year starter, completed 68 percent of his passes for 3,473 yards and 29 touchdowns, with nine interceptions in 2013. He also scored nine TDs on the ground. Ohio State's Braxton Miller, also a three-year starter, was even more of a dual threat, throwing for 1,860 yards and rushing for 1,033 more, with 32 total touchdowns (22 passing, 10 rushing). Boyd, a senior, will wrap his college career in Miami, while Miller, who is a junior, could also declare for the NFL draft after the Orange Bowl. Neither passer wants a sour ending to his career.
Despite their stellar seasons, Boyd and Miller each struggled at times in big games this fall. The Buckeyes defeated unbeaten Northwestern in October despite Miller throwing an interception and failing to either throw or run for a touchdown. He did score three TDs in the loss to the Spartans, but he also completed only 38 percent of his passes, a season low. Boyd, meanwhile, turned the ball over five times in Clemson's losses to South Carolina and Florida State; against the Seminoles, he completed a season-low 45.9 percent of his throws. The Orange Bowl could be decided by whichever quarterback plays effective, error-free football.
2. Getting defensive: There are more than enough quality defensive players on both rosters to throw a wrench in the pregame offensive narrative. Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier led the Big Ten in tackles (134) and tackles for loss (22.5), and earned first-team All-America honors. He came on especially strong down the stretch, with 62 tackles in his last four games. Along with cornerback Bradley Roby (three interceptions), Shazier could give Boyd plenty of problems as a pass rusher.
Tigers defensive end Vic Beasley and tackle Grady Jarrett, meanwhile, anchor a defensive line that could give Miller fits, especially in the run game, where the Buckeyes rank third nationally. Clemson (6.27 yards per play) and Ohio State (7.24 yards per play) are both efficient on offense, so getting stops on defense will be huge in a game that has the potential to blow up the scoreboard.
3. Bouncing back: With all the success the last two seasons under Meyer, the Buckeyes have never had to bounce back from a loss; Ohio State carried a school-record 24-game win streak into the Big Ten title game against Michigan State on Dec. 7. To make things even more difficult, the loss to the Spartans -- the first loss of Meyer’s tenure -- wasn’t just any loss, either; it knocked the Buckeyes out of BCS title contention. Now Miller, running back Carlos Hyde and Ohio State’s offense must rebound against a dangerous Tigers team. Do the Buckeyes have what it takes to put the Michigan State loss behind them and avoid Meyer’s first losing streak?
Can Clemson stop the run? There’s no denying Ohio State has an edge on the ground against Clemson. Miller and Hyde are the headliners for a Buckeyes rushing attack that leads the country with 7.03 yards per carry. Behind tailback Roderick McDowell (956 yards, five touchdowns), the Tigers gained just 4.08 yards per carry. Clemson's defense needs to force Ohio State into passing situations in order to stay competitive in Miami.
Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley: A finalist for the Ted Hendricks Award, given to the nation’s top defensive end, Beasley ranks fourth nationally in sacks (12) and seventh in tackles for loss (19). Miller won’t be his explosive self if his offensive line can’t keep Beasley at bay.
.950: Ohio State’s scoring percentage in the red zone, which ranks fourth in the country. The Buckeyes have put points on the board on 57 of their 60 trips to the red zone this season.
Either offense is capable of scoring 40 points on a given night, but only Ohio State can take full advantage on the ground. The Tigers, who haven’t delivered in big moments this season, aren't particularly strong against the run. Expect Miller to outshine Boyd while the Buckeyes’ defense harasses Boyd into trouble.
Ohio State 42, Clemson 30 [si_video id="video_239297BA-8D8E-0AA8-CC16-4440BE9CEA16" height="475"]