CLEMSON - Only three teams among the 10 BCS bowl participants lost their last game, and all three have to feel bitter about it.

There's No. 3 Alabama, settling for the Sugar Bowl against late-peaking Oklahoma instead of competing for its third consecutive national championship.

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Then there's No. 7 Ohio State, which coughed up its trip to Pasadena and the title matchup by losing to Michigan State. And, No. 12 Clemson, which lost to Florida State and South Carolina to spoil its own championship dreams.

The Tide were No. 1, the Buckeyes were No. 2, and the Tigers were No. 3 at their highest ranking points this season.

"You have two teams that their season ended on a downer. Which coaching staff can do a better job of getting their team ready to go?" ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit asked Sunday night, regarding the Tigers and Buckeyes in the Orange Bowl.

"Because this is going to be a big stage, a big opportunity for both teams. Really, it's about recruiting, getting that extra practice time, and building for the future for both Dabo (Swinney) and Urban (Meyer). So to me, there's a lot at stake in that bowl game, even though maybe it's not the bowl game that either one of these two teams hoped to get at in the beginning of the year."

Especially for Ohio State, which led Michigan State 24-20 in the fourth quarter.

"In college football, so much more than pro football because we're dealing with 18- to 22-year-olds, momentum's an extremely valuable thing," Meyer said. "When you lose a game, and you try to come back, that's difficult."

Meyer admits he worries about how bowl preparation will unfold, "because I worry about everything."

"But I have great confidence. This team, a lot of these players have been through a lot of stuff," Meyer continued. "Last year, they went 12-0 and they were unable to go play in a bowl game. Now their first chance to go play in a bowl game, they're in a BCS game against a great team. This group of kids wants to win a bowl game, win their 13th game."

The Tigers, on the other hand, will likely spend the month telling others they don't pay attention to outside opinions. But the label slapped on Clemson is it parlayed an easy schedule into 10 victories, and perhaps only made the BCS by virtue of replacing the league champion Seminoles in the Orange Bowl.

The last time Clemson went to Miami on the big stage, West Virginia embarrassed the Tigers 70-33 two seasons ago.

"We know we've got something to prove. The last time we went to a BCS bowl game, it wasn't a good ending," junior safety Robert Smith said. "So we're going out to prove that we've won 31 games the last three years, so we deserve to be in a BCS bowl game as one of the elite teams in the nation."

At least Clemson has recent history to bank on. Charged with the same situation this time last December - a 10-2 season ending with a loss to South Carolina - the Tigers responded by defeating No. 9 LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

"We just went back to practice," senior left tackle Brandon Thomas said of last year. "We can't let a loss deter us from trying to win our next game. I think that's the same mindset this time."