The Bowl Championship Series came calling once again for Ohio State, albeit not the game the Buckeyes wanted.
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A day after seeing their national-title hopes and 24-game winning streak end with a loss in the Big 10 championship game, the seventh-ranked Buckeyes were selected Sunday to play against No. 12 Clemson in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 3.
It’s the 10th BCS berth for the Buckeyes, more than any other school, though one of those appearances was later vacated.
"This team, a lot of these players have been through a lot of stuff," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. "Last year they went 12-0 and were unable to go play in a bowl game. Now, their first chance to go play in a bowl game, they’re in a BCS game against a great team. … This group of kids wants to go win a bowl game and win their 13th game. That’s what we’re going to work awful hard to get done."
Since the start of 2012, both the Buckeyes (12-1) and Tigers (10-2) rank in the top 10 nationally in terms of points per game and winning percentage. Combined, they’re 45-5 since the start of last season, and although both had bigger aspirations, they still figure to give the Orange Bowl the type of marquee matchup that bowl games covet.
"I definitely want to congratulate Ohio State, another great year," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "They were a couple plays away from playing for the national championship and I’ve got all the respect in the world for coach Meyer. Looking forward to spending some time with him down in Miami."
Still, going to the Orange Bowl may seem like a bit of a consolation prize for both schools.
Both entered the season among the presumed contenders for the national championship, which will be claimed by either Florida State or Auburn. Clemson had its chance against Florida State in Atlantic Coast Conference play — at home, no less — and got blown out, then fell again to South Carolina in the regular-season finale.
And if Ohio State had beaten Michigan State for the Big 10 title on Saturday night, the Buckeyes almost certainly would have gotten their chance to meet the Seminoles for the national title.
Instead, the Buckeyes are headed to Miami Gardens, Fla. — at the stadium where Meyer won his second, and most recent, national championship. Meyer led the Gators to the title after the 2006 and 2008 seasons.
"They’re heartbroken but they’re competitors," Meyer said, assessing his team’s mood after seeing a chance to play for the BCS title slip away. "I think the fact they’re playing in a BCS bowl game against Clemson, that’s going to wake you up real fast."
Ohio State finished seventh in the final BCS rankings. Clemson finished 12th. Both teams have big-time quarterbacks, with Braxton Miller for the Buckeyes and Tajh Boyd for the Tigers.
Combined, Miller and Boyd have accounted for 70 touchdowns this season.
"Both quarterbacks are proven winners and have been for a long time," Swinney said. "I know Tajh is looking forward to the challenge in his final game in a Clemson uniform."
For Clemson, the Orange Bowl trip is a chance for some vindication. The Tigers were in the game two years ago after winning the ACC title, and were embarrassed 70-33 by West Virginia.
"We’re a little bit different team than when we went down there a couple years ago," Swinney said. "We had 42 freshmen on that roster, first BCS experience and all that kind of stuff. We’ve got a lot of guys that have been there. The biggest thing is, we’ll have a great practice plan, great preparation … but we’re going to have to play a great ballgame to have a chance to compete with a team like Ohio State, that’s for sure."
The Buckeyes will be vying to give Meyer his fourth 13-1 season since 2006. Clemson could finish 11-2 in consecutive years with a victory.
The schools have met only once before, with Clemson winning 17-15 in the 1978 Gator Bowl. It’ll also be the first time the Tigers have played a Big 10 team since 1990.