CLEMSON — Take a look at the trappings surrounding the Orange Bowl, and it is easy to question Clemson’s focus.
This week, the Tigers will take part in a beach party outside their team hotel alongside the Atlantic Ocean in Hollywood, Fla. They’ll enjoy fine dining at Fogo de Chao, a well-known Brazilian steakhouse. And the Miami/South Beach nightlife will be a constant temptation.
Still, sophomore quarterback Tajh Boyd knows all the glitz is meaningless without a win over West Virginia in the program’s first-ever BCS game Jan. 4.
“It’s not a vacation at all,” Boyd said last week. “Coming down (to south Florida) is a business trip and we’ve got one thing in mind – to win the game. I think at first we look at everything like, we’re going to Miami, we’re going to have a great time. And we will have a great time. But that’s not the purpose. The purpose is to go down there and win the game.”
Finding a balance between football and fun is crucial.
The Orange Bowl is a reward for Clemson’s first ACC title since 1991, but at the same time, it looms as a crucial springboard for the offseason and 2012. Win, and the Tigers could open next season in the nation’s top 10.
“We don’t want to go there and be bored and sit in the hotel all day,” said junior defensive end Malliciah Goodman. “ But you have to know when you’re in football mode and be focused at practice, know where you’re at. When you’re doing team activities, have fun. Balance and learn how to turn the switch on and off.”
Center Dalton Freeman agreed, saying, “they didn’t invite us go to go there and ride jet skis and lay on the beach. They’re inviting us to play a football game.”
Coach Dabo Swinney didn’t give his team its official Florida itinerary until on-campus practices wrapped up last week, and Freeman is confident the staff will foster the right attitude.
“It’s a reward for all our hard work, and it’s difficult to find that balance,” he said. “At the same time, our coaches do a good job setting up a schedule where we’re very disciplined in our routine, and when it’s time to work, we work. When it’s time to play, we’re able to play.”
Clemson’s hotel location could also help overall focus. While West Virginia is staying at the Fountainbleau on Miami Beach, the Tigers are staying at the Westin Diplomat and Spa in Hollywood.
Although plush, the Diplomat is 15 miles from Miami Beach, making South Beach an expensive proposition for those without ground transportation.
Earlier this season, Boyd said his favorite pregame song is “In The Air Tonight” from the Miami Vice soundtrack. But he may have to visualize it rather than live out the lyrics on South Beach.
“I had it pictured in my mind, walking down South Beach,” Boyd said. “Then (coaches) said you’re actually staying 45 minutes from South Beach, so I’m thinking cab fare is going to be somewhere near $100. I’m not trying to do that.”
Another huge motivational factor is actually finishing the season with a win. Since taking a 19-10 win over Colorado in the 2005 Champs Sports Bowl, Clemson has lost four of five bowl games, with the only win coming in the 2009 Music City Bowl over Kentucky.
Last week, junior tight end Dwayne Allen said his teammates had trouble finding motivation for mid-tier bowls, but that won’t be an issue this week.
“I can honestly say, this one probably matters more,” Boyd said. “If you have a disappointing season, you don’t put the same intensity, take the same step forward as if you’re playing a big bowl. That’s not just us; that’s the way bowls are. We expect a lot of ourselves. We’re going to go down there and give it everything we’ve got.”
“We know what we want,” he said. “To be Orange Bowl champions.”