Who: #23 West Virginia Mountaineers (9-3, Big East Champions) vs. #15 Clemson Tigers (10-3, ACC Champions)
What: 2012 Discover Orange Bowl
Where: Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, FL
When: Wednesday, January 4th at 8:30 P.M. EST
The Discover Orange Bowl will feature a match-up of BCS conference champions on Wednesday night with West Virginia, out of the Big East facing 2011 ACC Champion Clemson. West Virginia finished in a three-way-tie in the Big East with Cincinnati and Louisville, but were awarded the automatic bid due to having a higher BCS ranking than either of the two other schools. West Virginia won its final three games by a total of 7 points to capture the conference crown. Clemson, on the other hand, began the season 8-0 and looked like a team that had dreams of reaching the BCS National Championship before losing three of its final four regular season games. The Tigers were able to circle the wagons and put together a 28-point second half in Charlotte to down the Coastal division champion Virginia Tech Hokies 38-10 and capture the school’s first ACC title in more than 20 years.
West Virginia will be representing the Big East in a BCS game for the third time since 2005; the Mountaineers were successful in their last two BCS trips beating Georgia 38-35 in the Sugar Bowl following the 2005 season and finishing the 2007 season with a 48-28 win over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. West Virginia does enter the contest having lost consecutive bowl games to the ACC. West Virginia fell to N.C. State in the Champs Sports Bowl last season and was defeated by a 6-6 Florida State team in the Gator Bowl two years ago. Clemson lost to a Big East school in a bowl game to conclude last season when the Tigers fell to South Florida 31-26 in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. This will be the first ever appearance for Clemson in a BCS game; the ACC has not fared well in BCS bowls going just 2-13 all-time. Clemson is just 1-4 in its last five bowl appearances. Wednesday night’s Discover Orange Bowl will air on ESPN.
Keys to Victory
Neither West Virginia’s Geno Smith nor Clemson’s Tajh Boyd are strangers to slinging the football around and expect both to come out firing on Wednesday night. There should be opportunities for both quarterbacks to make big plays in the passing game, but the signal-caller that makes the fewest mistakes should give his team the best chance to win. Smith has passed for 3,978 yards this season with 25 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions, but four have come in West Virginia’s three losses. Boyd has passed for 3,578 yards and 31 touchdowns, but five of his 10 interceptions have come in Clemson losses.
Get Playmakes Involved
There is no shortage of playmakers on either of the two teams. West Virginia has receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, who make for an outstanding duo of pass-catchers having combined for 2,260 receiving yards. Austin is the more versatile of the two and is used in a variety of ways; the Mountaineers like to throw receiver screens to Austin and use him in the running game on occasion. Austin even has two kickoff returns for touchdowns this season. Bailey is more of the deep threat having averaged nearly 18-yards-per-reception this season while scoring 11 touchdowns.
While West Virginia has the talented duo at receiver, Clemson has playmakers at every position. Receiver DeAndre Hopkins is nursing an injury and it is unclear how effective he’ll be on Wednesday night. Even if Hopkins can’t go, the Tigers still has plenty of skill around Boyd. Running back Andre Ellington finished with over 1,000 yards rushing this season is Clemson’s biggest threat in the ground game and can break off the big run. Freshman wide-out Sammy Watkins did it all for the Tigers this season and is one of the more dangerous players in all of College Football. Watkins caught 77 passes for 1,153 yards this season to go with 11 touchdowns and averaged 7.4 yards on 31 rushing attempts this season. Watkins even returned a kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown late in Clemson’s 56-45 win over Maryland to put the Tigers ahead for good and keep Clemson undefeated at the time. All-American tight end Dwayne Allen is as solid as they come and is the winner of the John Mackey Award. Allen comes in just shy of 600 yards receiving with 8 touchdown receptions and is a match-up nightmare. Clemson has the advantage when it comes to skill players, but the team that is able to make the most plays will be at an advantage on Wednesday night.
Get Stops on 3rd Down
With all the talent on offense for both teams, getting defensive stops will be key which will make it all the more important for the defenses to find ways to get stops of third down. Clemson was third in the ACC when it came down to converting on third down as it converted nearly 42% of the time; West Virginia was not quite as successful converting just 38% of the time. West Virginia was more successful rushing the passer, recording four more sacks than the Tigers in one fewer game and pressure will be sorely needed on Wednesday. Boyd is much more accurate passer when given time and if the Mountaineers are able to generate a pass rush, they should should have a very good chance of getting Clemson’s potent offense off of the field.
This game should be a high-scoring affair and should remain competitive throughout. Both teams will go up and down the field for three quarters, but in the fourth quarter, Clemson having a stronger running game, will be a distinct advantage and the difference. The Mountaineers have to find a way to win the turnover battle and get their playmakers involved, but at the end of the day, Clemson will be too much and get its first BCS win. Clemson 41 West Virginia 30.