Clemson tight end Stanton Seckinger says the most intriguing thing about the Tigers' Orange Bowl matchup against Ohio State is the unknown.
"It's not a game you can look at and say 'this is going to be the outcome,'" said Seckinger as the Tigers finished up their academic exams and prepared to begin bowl practice on Friday. "I think this is going to be one of those games where no one really knows. That's one reason it's going to be such a highly-anticipated game."
Some have rated the Clemson-Ohio State game as this bowl season's best matchup, and as the premier pairing of quarterbacks in the post-season.
The Tigers and the Buckeyes have little in common except for occasional clashes on the recruiting trail. They haven't played a common opponent since 2010, when Clemson lost to Miami 30-21, and a week later, the Hurricanes fell to Ohio State 36-24.
The teams' schedules have also taken on different dynamics.
The Buckeyes will be Clemson's sixth top-12 opponent in a 15-game span. Ohio State had gone 24-0 under coach Urban Meyer before losing to Michigan State in the Big Ten championship last week, but hadn't played a top-12 team in two seasons and hasn't beaten anyone in the top 20 during that timeframe.
Both teams know they have their work cut out for them when bowl practice gets underway in Clemson and Columbus on Friday.
Ohio State's defense, which has been torched for more than 750 passing yards in its past two games, will be trying to figure how to stop the Tigers' aerial attack. Meanwhile, Clemson will be looking for a way to contain a running quarterback after being slashed by South Carolina's Connor Shaw two weeks ago.
Ohio State leads the nation in rushing yards per carry, with its attack built around quarterback Braxton Miller and running back Carlos Hyde - both thousand-yard rushers this season.
Against the Gamecocks, the Tigers were able to stop half of USC's rushing threat, as they held running back Mike Davis to just 22 yards, but rarely laid a hand on Shaw until his damage was done.
“Both are great players, but I would say this is a step up to another level going to Braxton,” said Tiger defensive tackle Grady Jarrett. “It’s almost similar to Carolina with Shaw and Davis. We just know we’ve got a lot of work to do to stop two great football players. We know it can be done.”
Safety Robert Smith agrees that the Tigers "have got to find a way to contain the quarterback better."
"We have to learn from what happened," he said. "I feel like we will, and that we'll be more cognizant of it."
The Tigers will get their first film session on Ohio State Friday morning, and then will be back on the practice field in the afternoon.
Clemson's players say they're excited about the opportunity to play against a program of Ohio State's stature.
“Everybody knows Ohio State,” said Smith. "When I saw that they lost, I thought maybe they'd be in the Orange Bowl. I feel like a lot of people will like to see Ohio State and Clemson go against each other.”
There are other storylines as the Tigers begin preparations for the Buckeyes.
The game mirrors Clemson's situation last season, when the Tigers went into their bowl game at 10-2 coming off a disappointing loss to South Carolina, matched against a top-10 LSU team that had fallen narrowly short of its national championship aspirations.
They responded with a month of tough, intensely physical practices and then beat LSU to finish in the top 10.
And, of course, there's the still lingering hangover from their Orange Bowl experience two years ago, when a close game against West Virginia pivoted and then snowballed into a 70-33 Mountaineer runaway.
"We’re a different team now," said senior offensive tackle Brandon Thomas. "I think we’ve got a different mentality now. We’ve matured a lot, and I think we’ll be ready."
"You’re never going to forget something like that, but we're not dwelling on it," Smith said. “We’re going down there knowing we have something to prove. But it's over with, and you have to move on."