The last time Urban Meyer coached a football game at Sun Life Stadium, he ended the night by hoisting the BCS National Championship trophy with a swarm of happy Florida Gators around him.
Meyer, now in his second season at Ohio State, won't be doing any of that come Jan.3 when the seventh-ranked Buckeyes (12-1) take on 12th-ranked Clemson (10-2) in the 2014 Discover Orange Bowl.
Ohio State had its 24-game winning streak and a shot at playing Florida State in the BCS National Championship Game halted by Michigan State last week in the Big Ten title game.
As disappointing as that was, Meyer and Tigers coach Dabo Swinney — who met Wednesday for a pregame news conference at the Seminole Hard Rock hotel near Fort Lauderdale — are both looking to end their seasons on a positive note. Clemson ended its regular season with a loss to in-state rival South Carolina.
“I think the minute the Orange Bowl selected Ohio State, the mood changed real fast in Columbus, Ohio,” said Meyer, whose 2012 Ohio State team finished 12-0 but sat out the bowl season because of NCAA sanctions.
“Every team in America wakes up in August and wants to go play in a BCS bowl game. We're one of the few that gets to do that, so we're honored to be here.”
The Buckeyes, designated as this year’s home team, haven't played in the Orange Bowl since beating Colorado 27-10 in 1977. They haven't faced Clemson since the 1978 Gator Bowl. The Tigers won that meeting 17-15.
This year's matchup — Ohio State is an early 21/2 point favorite — features two high-scoring offenses. With quarterback Tajh Boyd behind the wheel, Clemson ranks 12th in both passing (329.3 yards per game) and scoring (40.2). With the fleet-footed Braxton Miller under center, the Buckeyes rank fourth in both rushing (317.5) and scoring (46.3).
“I haven't been able to study Braxton [Miller] beyond what I've seen on TV and common opponents, but man he is a special player,” Swinney said.
“The biggest thing is he's a winner. When you can count on one finger how many losses you have, you're pretty good. He's a 1,000-yard rusher and I know he missed at least three games I think. You throw that in there with the balance they present, how they throw the ball very efficiently, it's two equally great quarterbacks that mean so much to their teams facing off. I think it's a great matchup.”
Since being blown out by West Virginia in the Orange Bowl 70-33 two seasons ago, Clemson has gone 21-4. Swinney points out his team's return trip to South Florida marks the sixth time in its past 15 games it will face a team ranked in the top 12.
“Clemson will probably give us the biggest challenge we've had all year. We've had some struggles on defense,” said Meyer, whose Buckeyes rank seventh against the run (102.6), 21st in scoring defense (21.3), but 75th in passing efficiency defense (129.6) and 102nd in passing yards allowed.
Clemson ranks 17th in scoring defense (21.1) and 16th in passing efficiency defense (111.14), but 49th against the run (152.6).
“They're 24-1. That's almost unheard of,” Swinney said. “And to be honest with you, they could very well be the best team in the country. They are maybe two plays away from sitting on the other coast right now.
“For us, we're very proud of the things we've accomplished in the last few years, the consistency we've developed. This is an opportunity for us again to measure up against one of the best teams in the country. We're trying to get an 11th win for the second year in a row. That's never happened before [at Clemson]. So there is a lot of things for us to play for.”