CLEMSON — At halftime of the Clemson-South Carolina basketball game Sunday, Dabo Swinney and the Clemson football program provided the day’s biggest highlight. The Tigers took the floor, Clemson’s first ACC championship trophy since 1991 in tow.
Swinney got the microphone, and told a story: earlier this year, he said, he made a big sign for his team that said “20/30.”
His players were confused.
Swinney explained: the sign represented the fact that it’d been 20 years since Clemson had won an ACC title. And 30 years since the Tigers had been invited to the Orange Bowl.
“And it’s been long enough,” he said.
His players agreed, blasting then-No.5 Virginia Tech 38-10 Saturday night to win the ACC title and earn an Orange Bowl bid.
Sunday, the No.14 Tigers (10-3) learned their opponent in Jan. 4’s Orange Bowl: West Virginia. The teams will meet in an 8:30 p.m. game at Sun Life Stadium, televised nationally by ESPN.
“We’re really excited to have the opportunity at Clemson to represent the ACC and also return to the site of our program’s greatest moment in the 1982 Orange Bowl,” Swinney said. “We congratulate Coach Dana Holgorsen and what a great job they’ve done in his first year as a head coach – it’s not easy to do. We’re looking forward to spending quality time with those guys and having a great game in Miami.”
West Virginia is 9-3; the Mountaineers won their final three Big East games, beating Cincinnati, Pitt and South Florida by a total of seven points. That earned them a three-way tie with Cincinnati and Louisville for the Big East title – West Virginia won the automatic bid thanks to its No.23 BCS ranking. Clemson was 15th in Sunday’s BCS rankings.
The teams have met once, a 27-7 Clemson victory in the 1989 Gator Bowl. It was Danny Ford’s last game as the Tigers’ head coach.
WVU is led by Holgorsen, who was hired by the Mountaineers as offensive coordinator and coach-in-waiting, expected to succeed Bill Stewart following this season. But when Stewart attempted to undermine Holgorsen in newspaper reports, he was fired, with his successor taking the job a year early.
The Mountaineers have a high-powered offense; they average 459 yards per game, 17th nationally, and 34.9 points per game, 19th nationally. Like Clemson, they employ a fast-paced system, but it revolves primarily around the passing game. West Virginia is seventh nationally in passing offense, averaging 341.8 yards per game, but 100th nationally in rushing offense.
Quarterback Geno Smith averages 331.8 yards passing per game with 25 touchdowns against seven interceptions. He also has a pair of primary targets. Wide receiver Stedman Bailey has 1,197 yards receiving on 67 receptions with 11 touchdowns; Tavon Austin has 89 catches for 1,063 yards and four scores.
Clemson ranks 29th in total offense, averaging 440.6 yards per game, and 27th in scoring offense, averaging 33.6 points per game.
“I’ll be surprised if there aren’t some points scored in this one,” Swinney said. “I don’t think it’ll be a 6-3 ballgames, like some of those other games out there. It should be an exciting game for the fans.”