Ohio State won its first 24 games under coach Urban Meyer, but the Buckeyes are still without a BCS National Championship berth to show for it.
First it was a one-year bowl ban served last season for impermissible benefits received by players, and this season it was a 34-24 defeat to Michigan State in the Big Ten title game — Meyer’s only loss as Buckeyes coach — that kept then-No. 2 Ohio State from a trip to Pasadena.
Now No. 7 in the BCS standings, Ohio State (12-1, 8-1) may not be playing in its postseason bowl game of choice, but it nonetheless earned a compelling Discover Orange Bowl bid against No. 12 Clemson (10-2, 7-1 Atlantic Coast Conference).
The game will be played at 8:30 p.m. on Friday at Sun Life Stadium. Both teams arrived to South Florida on Sunday, and Meyer feels his Buckeyes have no time to feel sorry for themselves.
“The fact that we’re playing Clemson in a BCS bowl game wakes everyone up real fast,” he says.
Clemson appears it won’t require any waking up to get motivated for the Orange Bowl.
“Big stage, big venue, beautiful city. We’re excited about a great team we’re going to play against,” says senior Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd. “Both teams definitely have something to play for. I don’t think it’s one team that has more to play for than the other.”
Added coach Dabo Swinney, “This is the bowl that every college football player and every college coach wants to be a part of.”
The matchup pits two of the nation’s top quarterbacks against each other in Boyd and Braxton Miller.
“That’s a good place to start when you start talking about this game because, make no mistake, those two guys and how they play will have a major impact on the game,” Swinney said.
Miller, a three-year starter for Ohio State as a junior, has thrown for 1,860 yards and 22 touchdowns to five interceptions on 63.2-percent passing. He’s also run for over 140 yards in his last four games, scoring eight rushing touchdowns in those outings.
Boyd, may not be as dangerous on the ground, but he edges Miller in the pocket, passing for 3,473 yards and 29 touchdowns on 67.6-percent passing.
With all the hype surrounding the quarterbacks, the biggest star might be Boyd’s top target, Sammy Watkins.
With 85 receptions for 1,237 yards and 10 touchdowns, the junior receiver is the No. 4 draft-eligible prospect and tops among all receivers, according to Scouts Inc. He’s also not short on confidence.
“I think I’m the best receiver in the nation,” said Watkins, who says he will discuss whether to enter the draft with coaches after the game. “I think I can’t be guarded. That’s my mindset.”
Watkins, from Fort Myers, is one of eight players from Florida on Clemson’s roster, but none are from Miami-Dade or Broward county. Ohio State features two players from Broward in freshman defensive end Joey Bosa (St. Thomas Aquinas) and junior linebacker Ryan Shazier (Plantation).
The Orange Bowl marks not only Meyer’s homecoming to the state of Florida where he coached the Gators for six seasons, but his return to the stadium where he won his last national championship with Florida in January 2009.
“I love the state of Florida, still kept the house in the state of Florida,” Meyer says. “It feels good to be back.”
Clemson was in the Orange Bowl just two seasons ago, when it fell flat in a 70-33 loss to West Virginia. The last time the Buckeyes played in the Orange Bowl was January 1, 1977. They defeated Colorado 27-10 under coach Woody Hayes.
Ohio State will be staying at the Westin Diplomat in Hollywood and practice at Nova Southeastern University. Clemson will lodge at the Fountainbleau in Miami Beach and practice at Barry University.