West Virginia is going for its first 10-win season since 2007 in the Discover Orange Bowl against Clemson tonight. Here is a quick preview:
WHO TO WATCH: Quarterback Geno Smith. All eyes are going to be on both quarterbacks in this game, for obvious reasons. Clemson has made it no secret this week that its No. 1 goal is to get after Smith, in order to get him out of rhythm. This, of course, would limit the number of touches for 1,000-yard receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. A few teams have been successful at getting Smith off his game, and the front Clemson brings may have that capability -- with Andre Branch and Brandon Thompson two of the more highly-rated linemen for the 2012 NFL draft. Branch had 10.5 sacks and 16 tackles for loss this season, and could pose major problems. West Virginia has not been consistent on the offensive line this season, but there is some good news. The Mountaineers tend to play up to their level of competition. So getting to face a line as good as Clemson could mean an outstanding performance, which is the biggest key to getting Smith and his receivers going.
WHAT TO WATCH: West Virginia defense vs. Tajh Boyd. Much has been made about the two offenses in this game, but the defenses should not be ignored. West Virginia has made a pretty solid turnaround in the final three games of the season, allowing just 365.7 yards a game, turning up its pressure and playing much better pass defense. This group has been much more opportunistic as well. It most certainly will have to be against Clemson, a team that has fared much better in turnover margin. Tight end Dwayne Allen poses a huge threat, because he is like an extra receiver on the field, and West Virginia will be without starting safety Terence Garvin. At least the Mountaineers have experience going against an up-tempo team. Can they keep up the momentum from the end of the season?
WHY TO WATCH: Everybody loves offense, right? And everybody loves the battle for supremacy between the Big East and ACC, right? OK maybe not the latter, but there should be plenty of fireworks in this one, and plenty of NFL talent on this field. Plus, this could be West Virginia's final game as members of the Big East. If that is indeed the case, you can bet the Mountaineers will want to do nothing but go out on top.
PREDICTION: West Virginia 35, Clemson 30. Yes, I realize that West Virginia is going to be without several of its starters, including Garvin and Dustin Garrison. But I also think this is a team that found its way in the latter part of the season, and will not be denied. Simply put, West Virginia refused to lose, and every part of this team willed itself to victory against Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and USF. Folks are focusing on the offenses; but West Virginia is better overall on defense and that makes the difference in this game.