Occupied with final exams, Clemson players have yet to study Ohio State sufficiently to form many tangible opinions, but the reputation and resume of their Orange Bowl opponent and the opportunity to put an exclamation point on this season are sufficient to intrigue them.
“Everybody knows Ohio State,” said junior safety Robert Smith, agreeing it was a popular pairing with his teammates.
“When I saw that Ohio State lost, I thought they were going to be in the Orange Bowl, and I thought that it would be a good matchup,” Smith said. “I felt like a lot of people would like to see Ohio State and Clemson go against each other.”
Questions about its fitness as a BCS bowl team dog Clemson despite a 10-2 record and a No. 12 ranking. Also casting a long shadow is Clemson’s most recent Orange Bowl appearance two years ago, a 37-point loss to West Virginia.
Players insist there’s no lingering stigma.
“It’s over with,” Smith said. “You’ve got to move on.
“We’re not dwelling on it. Of course, you’re never going to forget something like that,” he said. “We’re going down there knowing we have something to prove, that we want to be one of those elite teams that’s in the nation.”
Two years can seem like a lifetime when you’re trying to forget.
“That’s a long time ago,” offensive left tackle Brandon Thomas said. “We try not to let it get to us. We’re a different team. I think we’ve got a different mentality now. We’ve matured a lot. I think we’ll be ready, so I don’t think we’ll let that get us upset.”
A year ago, Clemson rallied to beat LSU at the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Besides securing their 11th win of the season and removing the alkaline aftertaste of a fourth consecutive loss to South Carolina, it provided the impetus into offseason drills that fueled the optimism for this season.
“We can’t let a loss like that deter us from trying to win the next game,” said Thomas, a senior. “I think that’s the same mindset this time. We’re going to practice hard. We want to win the game, of course.”
Clemson’s defense should be tested by Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller and running back Carlos Hyde. While they’re athletes of distinctly different calibers, Miller gives more of what Conner Shaw brings to South Carolina as a dual threat.
“Both are great players, but I would say this is a step up to another level going to Braxton,” defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said. “This is going to be a great challenge.
“It’s almost similar to Carolina with Shaw and (Mike) Davis,” he said. “We just know we’ve got a lot of work to do to stop two great football players. We know it can be done.”
Smith agreed that stopping Miller would be pivotal, and drawing from the experience with Shaw could be advantageous.
“You’ve got to find a way to contain the quarterback better,” he said. “I feel we’ll learn from it and we’ll be way more cognizant of it.”
Practice for the game should begin Friday with their academic responsibilities fulfilled. Coach Dabo Swinney expected them to be at full strength after several players underwent minor surgical procedures after the South Carolina game.
Thomas, like Smith, said they’ll flush the South Carolina game and move forward, try to win an 11th game in consecutive seasons for the first time.
“We want that 11th win,” Smith said. “When you play in a BCS bowl game, you play the best people, the best programs in the country. That’s what we wanted to do.”