- Heather Dinich, ESPN Staff Writer
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It's up to Clemson to carry the banner for the ACC this year in the Discover Orange Bowl. The league is 0-3 against Big East teams in bowl games. Here's a quick preview of tonight's game:
WHO TO WATCH: Quarterback Tajh Boyd. This game will feature two of the nation’s more high-powered offenses, and while true freshman receiver Sammy Watkins gets a lot of the hype, it’s Boyd who orchestrates it all. When he is at his best -- as he was as the unanimous MVP of the ACC championship game -- the Tigers are at their best. Boyd has set school records for passing yardage, touchdown passes, touchdown responsibility and total offense in a season. He will face a defense that struggled to replace seven starters from 2010 but made game-changing plays down the stretch to win the Big East.
WHAT TO WATCH: Clemson’s defense against West Virginia’s playmakers. While the offenses will provide the excitement in this game, the better defense will win it. The Tigers have had an inconsistent season, but they played one of their best games in the ACC championship game against Virginia Tech. Clemson will face Tavon Austin, who averages 191.2 yards per game and ranks second in the nation in all-purpose yards, and quarterback Geno Smith, who is ninth in the nation in total offense. Clemson has the No. 62 scoring defense in the country, allowing 26.15 points per game. West Virginia has the No. 19 scoring offense with 34.92 points per game.
WHY TO WATCH: It’s another opportunity for the ACC to improve upon its 2-11 record in BCS bowls, and because it’s been 30 years since Clemson has played in the Orange Bowl. Clemson is returning to the bowl in which it defeated Nebraska 22-15 to win the national championship on Jan. 1, 1982. That season Clemson finished 12-0. This year, the Tigers have a chance to win 11 games and win a BCS-level bowl both for the first time since 1981.
PREDICTION: Clemson 31, West Virginia 28. All signs point to this being a high-scoring game, but one of the differences will be the Tigers’ ability to run the ball. West Virginia’s rushing offense is No. 100 in the country, but Clemson running back Andre Ellington has 1,062 yards in 12 games, has scored 10 touchdowns and is second on the team in all-purpose yardage with 1,302. The Mountaineers depend heavily on the arm of Smith and a pair of outstanding receivers, and while it’s worked so far, Clemson has more options. Clemson’s defense, led by Andre Branch, will make just enough plays to win.