MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. - Technically, this caps off the 2013 season. But the Orange Bowl tonight is being played in 2014, and you never know: it could have a subliminal meaning for the 2014 College Football Playoff.
The way the post-BCS era is structured, a group of individuals will select the four teams fit to compete for a national championship going forward. While not explicitly stated in the criteria for making such selections, it sure wouldn't hurt for teams to develop a reputation now that they deserve a shot at the big trophy.
Consider it a closing unofficial statement.
That's what No. 12 Clemson and No. 7 Ohio State, to some degree, are playing for tonight besides the obvious: an Orange Bowl trophy.
Ohio State is 1-3 against teams ranked in the top 15 over the past three years. Clemson is 2-3 against teams ranked in the top 12 over the past 15 games.
OSU is a top-five brand, a perennial powerhouse who has perhaps lost its luster only because it's a top dog in a weak sister of a conference.
Clemson has, as its coaches and players like to say, "restored the roar" with three straight 11-win seasons. But it faces similar questions about the strength of its day-to-day rigors in the ACC, and that nasty state championship streak has stuck to the Tigers like a scarlet letter as well.
Either way, the spotlight is brighter in the BCS, and tonight's winner perhaps sets itself up for a preseason top ten ranking eight months from now despite losing a healthy diet of top players to the NFL.
Sammy Watkins is expected to declare for the NFL draft as soon as tonight after the game (if not in the coming days), whereas Vic Beasley and Martavis Bryant also have choices to ponder.
Of course, it's also the swan song for quarterback Tajh Boyd, who becomes Clemson's co-leader with 32 victories if he prevails tonight. He will be protected by seniors Brandon Thomas and Tyler Shatley, who in their last game anchor an offensive line trying to give Boyd enough time to distribute the football to another senior, tailback Roderick McDowell, as well as wideouts Watkins, Bryant and Adam Humphries.
On defense, this unit will only get better with age. However, it's the final countdown for linebacker Spencer Shuey, cornerback Darius Robinson and perhaps Beasley.
The goal: keep quarterback Braxton Miller, tailback Carlos Hyde and OSU's rushers well under 393 yards - the Buckeyes' total rushing yards against Michigan a month ago.
Oh, and perhaps you've heard about the turnover margin. Head coach Dabo Swinney preaches it himself - "we're not good enough to beat good teams when we turn it over" - and he's right. Clemson is 32-3 when it wins the turnover battle, and 8-14 when it loses it.
It's a comfortable evening in south Florida: temperatures in the 60s, with some wind but very little chance of rain. If tight end Stanton Seckinger does go for the Tigers (ankle), they should be all hands on deck tonight.
Follow @Aaron_Brenner, @Sapakoff and @rwood_SC on Twitter for live updates from the game. Also, check PostandCourier.com at halftime for Brenner's halftime hits, and of course, complete coverage of the game in print (no quotes) and online (many quotes.)
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