The Clemson Tigers stunned ACC favorites Virginia Tech to earn their first Discover Orange Bowl bid in 20 years. In the other corner, the West Virginia Mountaineers won a three-way tiebreaker to take home the Big East title and the default BCS berth that goes with it. It’ll be a battle of great offenses down in Miami Gardens. We examine who’s most likely to prevail.
Bowl Game: (Discover) Orange Bowl
Location: Miami Gardens, Fla.
First Year: 1935
2012 Participants: Clemson Tigers (10-3) vs. West Virginia Mountaineers (9-3)
Last Meeting: 1989, a 27-7 Gator Bowl win by Clemson
Clemson (previous bowl game: 31-26 loss to USF in 2010 Meineke Car Care Bowl)
For much of the 2011 season, the surprising Tigers sported the ACC’s most electrifying offensive attack. With All-ACC quarterback Tajh Boyd at the helm, and star freshman Sammy Watkins catching passes, the team raced out to an 8-0 start, averaging over 40 points per game in that span. Though the team struggled through the year’s final four regular season games (going 1-3), they still managed to recapture their previous magic in the ACC title game against Virginia Tech. Propelled by a swarming defensive front and a relentless passing assault, they cruised to a 38-10 victory. And while it was an impressive, unexpected victory, it shouldn’t cloud the obvious flaws in this Tigers team. They have a difficulty making tackles on defense, and rely far too heavily on Boyd when controlling the ball. When Boyd has a bad game, the team is just completely suffocated, suddenly possessing no ability to effectively move the ball. West Virginia would be wise to reference Georgia Tech‘s or NC State‘s strategies for additional tips.
West Virginia (previous bowl game: 23-7 loss to NC State in 2010 Champs Sports Bowl)
The Mountaineers were a much-heralded team heading into the 2011 season, sporting BCS hopes and a gaudy ranking. Unfortunately for them, the offense just never clicked like it was billed to, and a formerly staunch defense was exposed on various weekends by foes as superior as LSU to those as lackluster as my alma mater, Syracuse. Yet in spite of these perceived issues, WVU has proven it can win when it’s mattered most, taking their final three contests this year to take home the Big East title via tiebreaker. The key, regardless of how consistent it may or may not be, is their spread offense and quarterback Geno Smith. With one of the top 10 passing games in the country, Smith will have ample opportunities to sling the ball around the field on a suspect Clemson secondary. If the Tigers manage to shut down the pass though (this starts with defensive end Andre Branch), it could be a long day for one of the worst rushing teams in the nation.
In their loss against Syracuse, West Virginia was spread too thin on defense and the result was a drubbing of monumental proportions. With better personnel, Clemson can easily do the same, allowing Tajh Boyd to fire at-will from the opening gun. Unfortunately for the Tigers however, West Virginia possesses similarly talented players on offense and their own ability to spread underperforming defenses far too thin. While these deficiencies will surely make for an entertaining shootout of a ball game, they unfortunately must decide who prevails as well, given the evenly matched offenses. Both teams have shown improvement of late in terms of coverage and tackling, but in the end, Clemson just has more playmakers on defense and more experience hanging in with elite competition. Prediction: Clemson 38, West Virginia 33