- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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Taking a look at Ohio State's postseason opponent as it tries to move on from its loss in the Big Ten championship and looks to begin a new winning streak after the school-record 24-game string was snapped.
Coach: Dabo Swinney (five full seasons)
Record: 10-2, 7-1 in Atlantic Coast Conference
Combined opponents' record: 81-65
Common opponents: None
Leading passer: Tajh Boyd, 252 for 373 for 3,473 yards, 29 touchdowns and 9 interceptions
Leading rusher: Roderick McDowell, 177 carries for 956 yards and 5 touchdowns
Leading receiver: Sammy Watkins, 85 catches for 1,237 yards and 10 touchdowns
Leading tackler: Spencer Shuey, 89 tackles, 5.5 for a loss
What to know: Thanks to a successful run on the recruiting trail and a prolific offensive scheme, Clemson has built itself into a program that appears ready to contend annually for at least a conference title under Swinney. The Tigers haven't yet climbed over the hump into position to play for a national title, but after overcoming a rough patch during his second full season that seemed to put Swinney on the hot seat, they certainly seem to be headed in the right direction.
Clemson has won at least 10 games three seasons in a row, and it will be making its second appearance in the Orange Bowl in three years. The first trip didn't turn out well as West Virginia put up 70 points in a blowout victory over the Tigers after the 2011 season, again putting their defense under fire after failing to do much to support a high-flying offensive attack that typically has no problems carrying its share of the load.
This year, that defensive unit has been steady and solid, giving up just more than 21 points per game to rank No. 17 in the nation. That helps balance the scales with an offense that scores more than 40 points on average. The Tigers were gashed, though, in top-25 matchups against Florida State and South Carolina, yielding 51 to the No. 1 Seminoles and 31 to the rival Gamecocks to close the regular season.
Key matchup: Ohio State star cornerback Bradley Roby has one final audition on the college stage before heading to the NFL draft, and he's going to have his hands full with another surefire future pro. Watkins is one of the most dangerous targets in the country, and few defensive backs have been able to handle him without much help thanks to his explosive athleticism and playmaking ability.
The Buckeyes are at their best when they can play man coverage in the secondary and create pressure in the front seven, particularly when they turn Ryan Shazier loose as a blitzer. But an aggressive approach in getting after the passer requires lockdown coverage on the receivers, and the winner in what figures to be a spirited battle between Watkins and Roby will go a long way toward determining the Orange Bowl title.
2dDan Murphy and Mitch Sherman
2dSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information
4dMitch Sherman and Dan Murphy