Clemson Tigers (10-2) vs. Ohio State Buckeyes (12-1)
Jan. 3, TBD, Miami (ESPN)
CLEMSON TIGERS BREAKDOWN
Despite its third straight season with at least 10 wins, Clemson ended the regular season by extending its sour streak with a fifth straight losses to rival South Carolina and once again looking up at Florida State in the Atlantic Division standings.
The Tigers were picked by the media in July to win the ACC, but they fell flat in their two most important games of the season -- against the Seminoles and against South Carolina. They also happened to be the two worst performances of the season for quarterback Tajh Boyd, who has since fallen out of the Heisman conversation.
It wasn’t just that the Tigers lost those games; it was the fact that they lost them in embarrassing fashion. Florida State rolled Clemson in Death Valley on Oct. 19, quieting the crowd with a 51-14 romp. In a 31-17 loss to the Gamecocks, Clemson turned it over six times, each gaff seemingly more unbelievable than the last. Clemson’s only two losses, though, were to top-10 opponents. Clemson committed 10 turnovers versus FSU and South Carolina and was outscored 45-0 in points off turnovers in those games.
Still, the Tigers will bring one of the country’s most productive offenses, led by Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins, who has 224 career receptions and will need nine catches in the bowl game to break Aaron Kelly’s school career record of 232. The defense, led by Vic Beasley, has also shown significant improvement in the second season under coordinator Brent Venables. -- Heather Dinich
OHIO STATE BUCKEYES BREAKDOWN
The flawless, fairytale run wasn’t going to last forever, but Ohio State surely wasn’t planning on trying to start a new winning streak in its bowl game.
Undefeated under Urban Meyer until Saturday night’s loss in the Big Ten title game against Michigan State, “The Chase” the Buckeyes have been on for a national championship came up one game short. Their defense struggled to get off the field against the Spartans, and their powerful rushing attack was unable to get the yards that counted most.
But the combined star power of Meyer, quarterback Braxton Miller, running back Carlos Hyde and linebacker Ryan Shazier still made Ohio State plenty attractive for a BCS bowl, and it will have a marquee opportunity to post an impressive victory and cap what has still been a record-setting season for the program.
Few teams have been as explosive as the Buckeyes offensively, with both Miller and Hyde rushing for more than 1,000 yards and causing defenses fits with the zone-option attack. And while the passing game has regressed during the final month of the season, Miller has still come a long way as a passer, which has helped receivers Philly Brown and Devin Smith and tight end Jeff Heuerman find the end zone a combined 21 times.
The defense hasn’t been quite as consistent, particularly since the loss of stabilizing senior safety Christian Bryant in late September to a fractured ankle, but more often than not, it has made the plays needed to rack up wins. Typically, it has been Shazier doing the most damage, as the junior has routinely stuffed the stats sheet while leading the Big Ten in three different individual categories.
Neither side of the ball did quite enough to push the Buckeyes into the bowl they really had their eye on. But there was a nice consolation prize waiting for them, and a big opportunity to start over with, as well. -- Austin Ward