Jan. 4, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
West Virginia take from Big East blogger Andrea Adelson: Go ahead and say it: West Virginia has a flair for the dramatic this season. The Mountaineers never made things easy on themselves, down to the final game of the season. They dropped a game at Syracuse (has anybody figured that out yet?), and lost at home to Louisville for the first time since 1990, forcing them to scramble to win a share of the Big East title for the sixth time in the past nine seasons. Under first-year coach Dana Holgorsen, the Mountaineers were the preseason choice to win the Big East because of high expectations for a high-powered offense. Indeed, West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin shattered passing and receiving records, but nobody would say things ran smoothly for this team all season. The defense, which lost seven starters off one of the best groups in the nation last season, struggled for a good portion of the season at stopping the run and getting a sustained pass rush.
Even Holgorsen will tell you the offense was not running as consistently as he would like because of struggles on the offensive line and in the ground game. Still, this team found a way to win down the stretch -- and that is the mark of a good team. Consider that it had to come from behind in eight of its nine wins this season. That includes the final three against Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and USF. A loss in any of those games would have eliminated the Mountaineers from Big East contention. And in those three games, it was the defense that came up with huge plays -- from a fumble recovery in the end zone against the Bearcats; to 10 sacks against Pitt; to an interception return for a touchdown against USF and a fumble recovery late that gave the Mountaineers a chance to drive for the winning field goal. That victory got West Virginia to nine wins -- making it one of three programs in the nation to have at least nine wins in seven straight seasons.
Clemson take from ACC blogger Heather Dinich: Clemson defied all logic and most expectations when it flat-out dominated Virginia Tech in Saturday’s ACC championship game. After finishing the regular season with losses in three of their past four games, including an inexplicable implosion against NC State and the program’s third straight loss to rival South Carolina, the Tigers played their best and most complete game of the season against then-No. 5 Virginia Tech to win their first ACC title since 1991. It will be Clemson’s first appearance in the Orange Bowl since its national championship season in 1981. After starting the season 8-0, the Tigers struggled down the stretch with pass protection and turnovers, but it all seemed to come together against the Hokies. It’s the first time Clemson has had a 10-win season since 1990.
Clemson enters the Orange Bowl with the nation’s No. 21 passing offense under first-year starting quarterback Tajh Boyd and offensive coordinator Chad Morris, but West Virginia will also have to be wary of standout true freshman receiver Sammy Watkins and tight end Dwayne Allen. All three of them have had record-setting seasons, but Clemson’s defense has been inconsistent this year. The Tigers are allowing 26.15 points per game, and will face an offense that is averaging 34.92.
Clemson will be facing the Mountaineers for only the second time in its history. The Tigers won 27-7 in the 1989 Gator Bowl. Clemson has a 16-17 record in 33 bowl appearances. Overall, it is Clemson’s fourth appearance in the Orange Bowl (1951, 1957, 1982).