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CLEMSON - You didn't really think this game had anything to do with two years ago, right?
Oh, look, Clemson back in the Orange Bowl. Oh, look, 70-33. Oh, look, easy storyline. (Whoops, that's a typo. Forget easy. Lazy's more like it.)
Pity the poor Tigers who were asked to look into cameras and somehow compare next week's Ohio State showdown to ancient history in a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately landscape.
Uh, guys, y'all got spanked in this game by the same name two years ago, when West Virginia set a bowl record with 70 points. Say something intelligent about what that means this time around.
"That's a long time ago. We're a different team," offensive lineman Brandon Thomas said politely. "We have a different mentality now. I think we've matured a lot, so we're not going to let that get us upset."
Smith, a Woodland High School grad, was a little feistier.
"It's over with. I've been over the Orange Bowl since it was gone," Smith said. "You've got to move on. You can't dwell on the past. . The players know what happened last time. Even the players who weren't a part of it. But we're not dwelling on it."
That game did get Kevin Steele fired, replaced by longtime Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables.
"That game doesn't matter. And it doesn't matter with our guys," Venables said. "Hopefully it makes guys mad. But other than that, those circumstances don't matter. We've played a lot of football games since then."
Honesty hour. That 70-33 debacle's got about as much to do with the Jan. 3 Orange Bowl against Ohio State as the following:
- The Tigers' 52-13 win Sept. 7 over South Carolina State, an FCS team
- The Baltimore Ravens' 34-31 lights-out victory over the San Francisco 49ers in last year's Super Bowl
- Marisa Tomei's stunning upset to take home the 1993 Academy Award of Best Supporting Actress for her "My Cousin Vinny" role
Loved that word Smith repeatedly used: "dwell." Do you dwell on a bad breakup from two years ago, when you've dated a couple of hotties since then? Do you dwell on getting a D-minus on that big philosophy exam from sophomore year, after making the dean's list in each ensuing semester?
If you do, respectfully, you aren't making it very far. Failure happens. It's an inevitability of life.
So let's keep it real. This game's got very little - well, nothing, really - to do with redemption for getting floored by Geno Smith during the first Obama term. This game's got no ramifications in making up for five straight losses to South Carolina. This game's not going to fix perceived softness in the program's ability to out-recruit Georgia or out-scheme Florida State.
This game's about so much more, and we'll leave out the propaganda.
This game's about showing Clemson's a real contender nationally, not just regionally.
This game's about justifying that preseason No. 8 ranking.
This game's about insisting that beating Aaron Murray by 3, Terrel Hunt by 35 and David Watford by 49 actually means something.
This game's about proving - if you must make comparisons to 70-33 - the Tigers' first 2012 bowl game was a fluke, and even more importantly, that its second 2012 bowl game (Clemson 25, LSU 24 on New Year's Eve) was not.
This game's about reminding Clemson fans who judge their team's season only by nightmares of the Gamecocks dancing in their heads that the other 12 games on the schedule count too, and some of them count for a lot.
"In the back of our mind, we know we've got something to prove," Smith said. "We've won 31 games the last three years, so I think we deserve to be in a BCS bowl game as one of the elite teams in the nation."
Ohio State is a damn good team. It very well may win. It very well should win.
But if the Tigers believe that, just because of one bad night many moons ago, they've already lost.
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