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PREVIEW: ‘Heartbroken’ Ohio State meets Clemson in Orange Bowl

Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd finished with 3,473 yards, 29 scoring passes and a completion percentage of 67.6 this season heading into tonight’s Orange Bowl against Ohio State. (Reuters)

Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd finished with 3,473 yards, 29 scoring passes and a completion percentage of 67.6 this season heading into tonight’s Orange Bowl against Ohio State. (Reuters)

Although Clemson and Ohio State enter today’s Orange Bowl with a combined record of 22-3, coaches Dabo Swinney and Urban Meyer both understand their primary quests — namely, keeping their teams motivated following disappointing ends to the regular season.

Clemson (10-2) capped its season with a fifth consecutive loss to archrival South Carolina while the Buckeyes (12-1) had its national title hopes dashed with a loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten title game.

“What happened in the previous 12 games is behind us,” said Clemson’s Swinney, whose team was ranked 12th in the final BCS standings. “Our guys are excited about the postseason. We’ve never had back-to-back 11-win seasons, so there’s a lot of opportunity. We want to play well, we want to represent the ACC well.”

Meyer believes his team, ranked seventh in the BCS, will find some incentive as well, despite having a 24-game winning streak snapped by the Spartans.

“They’re heartbroken, but they’re competitors,” Meyer said. “And the fact that we’re playing in a BCS game against Clemson will wake you up in a hurry. I have no doubt that we’ll be excited to go play in this bowl game.”

The Tigers and Buckeyes have met just once, playing in the 1978 Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla. Clemson won that game 17-15, capping the first 11-win season in school history.

But that game was more notable for a couple of other reasons — it was the first game for young Clemson coach Danny Ford, who would lead the Tigers to their first and only national title three years later, and the final game for Ohio State coach Woody Hayes, who was fired the next morning after punching the Tigers’ Charlie Bauman along the Buckeyes’ sideline following Bauman’s late-game interception.

Thirty-five years later, both teams are hardly recognizable. Clemson and Ohio State both rank among the national scoring leaders with averages of more than 40 points per game. The Tigers boast a prolific passing game while the Buckeyes feature a relentless rushing attack and a pair of 1,000-yard rushers — one of whom is a quarterback.

“Braxton Miller is a winner,” Swinney said. “I mean the guy’s lost one game in two years, that’s the thing that jumps out at me. He’s like a running back that can throw the football. He’s just an outstanding player who can beat you in a lot of ways.”

Swinney has a potent weapon of his own in senior quarterback Tajh Boyd, and the Orange Bowl could come down to a battle of quarterbacks. Boyd owns 58 school records and ACC marks for career touchdown passes (102), passing efficiency (154.6) and touchdown responsibility (127).

Boyd has a variety of weapons in the passing game, and that may be Meyer’s ultimate concern.

“Their quarterback can run and throw, and that makes it difficult,” Meyer said. “Their athleticism at receiver is ridiculous.”

The Orange Bowl will be Clemson’s second BCS bowl berth in three years and its first selection as an at-large team. Ohio State will be making its nation-leading 10th BCS bowl appearance.

“It will be a huge challenge against what might be the best team in the country — a team that was a couple of plays away from getting the chance to prove that,” Swinney said.