ATLANTA - Last season’s Orange Bowl has nothing to do with this year’s Chick-fil-A Bowl, just as the BCS National Championship Game of January, 2012, has no bearing on Monday’s showdown in the Georgia Dome. But if there were ever two teams who want to get as far removed as possible from their last postseason games, it’s Clemson and LSU.
West Virginia 70, Clemson 33, became the stuff of legend almost as soon as the Orange Bowl was done, concluding the Tigers’ season with a resounding thud. Never before had a Bowl Championship Series game ended in such lopsided fashion; never before had a team looked so lost in a BCS game.
Dabo Swinney and company had clawed their way back from a whipping by South Carolina to win the ACC Championship at the expense of Virginia Tech, only to roll over and play dead against the Mountaineers.
The setback had an extremely long shelf life.
“For a while that’s all anybody talked about,” Swinney said. “Of all the good things that happened during the season, winning the ACC, winning 10 games, it all came back to the bowl game.”
Alabama 21, LSU 0, wasn’t as humiliating from a margin of victory standpoint but in many ways the Bayou Bengals’ fate was even worse than Clemson’s.
LSU ended the regular season a consensus No. 1 and after a 42-10 beatdown of Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, Les Miles’ team was being hailed as one of the best of all time.
Instead of living up to the hype in the BCS National Championship Game the Tigers delivered one of the worst offensive performances in program history, never threatening to score against an Alabama team it beat in Tuscaloosa during the regular season.
So while Clemson failed to hold serve in the ACC this year and LSU was knocked out of SEC contention in early November, when coaches and players say this bowl game is important they really mean it.
“Frankly, Clemson is a team worthy of respect,” Miles said. “The opportunity to play a very, very talented, capable Clemson in the back end of a season in my opinion is every motivation that we need to play well. And we expect that we might play our best in the last one.”
Both teams are 10-2, and the club that finishes 11-2 will be hailed as one of the elites of 2012.
For LSU, it will move the Bengals closer to a Top 5 finish and set them up as a both an SEC and national championship threat in 2013.
For Clemson, 11-2 might propel the Tigers into the Top 10 and would put them in elite company from a program standpoint.
The only CU teams to reach the 11-victory summit were the 1948, 1978 and 1981 squads.
“Eleven wins in Clemson history has been a pretty rare thing,” Swinney said. “To be at the doorstep of that for the second year in a row is pretty special.”
Monday’s Chick-fil-A Bowl is being touted as the best non-BCS matchup of the season.
It might well be.
But for the winner it will also be the best recipe for redemption, a chance to finally forget about a bowl loss that was memorable for all the wrong reasons.