Orange Bowl: West Va. vs. Clemson

Published on Jan. 4 at 12:59 a.m. Eastern.

By Brian Edwards

For the first time since 1991, Clemson (10-3 straight up, 8-5 against the spread) won the ACC title this year to earn its first trip to a BCS game in school history. The Tigers will face West Virginia in Wednesday’s Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium in Miami.

As of early this morning, most betting shops had Clemson listed as a three-point favorite with a total of 62. Gamblers can West Va. (9-3 SU, 6-6 ATS) to win outright for a plus-125 payout (risk $100 to win $125).

Dabo Swinney’s team raced out to an 8-0 start and was clearly in the national-title picture going into an Oct. 29 trip to Atlanta to take on Ga. Tech. But the wheels fell of the Tigers on that night, as they dropped a 31-17 decision as 3 ½-point road favorites.

Swinney’s squad limped through the month of November, going 1-2 SU and 0-3 ATS. Clemson needed a fourth-quarter rally and a last-second field goal to beat Wake Forest 31-28 at home. Next, the Tigers lost in blowout fashion at North Carolina St. (37-13) and at South Carolina (34-13).

Clemson looked so bad in November that it was installed as a seven-point underdog vs. Va. Tech in the ACC Championship Game. This fact displayed how much the team’s stock had fallen since it had thumped the Hokies by a 23-3 count in Blacksburg back on Oct. 1.

The script from Lane Stadium carried over to Charlotte two months later. Once again, Clemson dominated in a 38-10 win. Tajh Boyd completed 20-of-29 passes for 240 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. He also scored on a one-yard TD run to put the game on ice early in the final stanza.

Andre Ellington rushed for a team-high 125 yards and one touchdown on 20 carries. Sammy Watkins had five receptions for 80 yards and a TD, in addition to five carries for 55 yards.

We should point out that Watkins, an explosive playmaker in the Percy-Harvin mold (but taller), missed the loss at N.C. St. with a shoulder injury and still wasn’t 100 percent in the loss to the Gamecocks. Also, Ellington missed the loss at Ga. Tech with an ankle injury.

Boyd has thrown for 3,578 yards with a 31/11 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He’s also rushed for five TDs. Ellington has rushed for a team-high 1,062 yards, including a 212-yard effort in a 56-45 come-from-behind win at Maryland. Ellington has 10 rushing TDs and a 5.0 yards-per-carry average.

Watkins, a true freshman, is the catalyst for this dynamic offense. He has a team-high 79 receptions for 1,159 yards and 11 TDs. Also, Watkins rushed for 229 yards, averaging 7.4 YPC. He had 2,092 all-purpose yards and one kickoff return for a TD.

WVU won its last three games to win the Big East and earn the league’s bid to a BCS game. The Mountaineers closed the regular season by capturing a 30-27 win at South Florida as two-point road favorites.

Pat Miller returned an interception 52 yards for a TD and Tavon Austin scored on a 90-yard kickoff return for the winners, who prevailed thanks to Tyler Bitancourt’s 28-yard field goal as time expired. Dustin Garrison rushed for 87 yards and one TD.

Geno Smith was intercepted twice against the Bulls and didn’t throw a TD pass. However, those type of numbers weren’t the norm in 2011 for the junior signal caller. Smith connected on 65-percent of his throws for 3,978 yards with a 25/7 TD-INT ratio.

Garrison was WVU’s leading rusher (742 yards, 6 TDs) but he is out for the Orange Bowl after suffering a knee injury that’ll require surgery at practice last week. Nevertheless, the Mountaineers have plenty of depth at the RB position thanks to the presence of Shawne Alston, who has a team-high 10 rushing TDs.

WVU has been an underdog twice this year, going 1-1 both SU and ATS. The Mountaineers lost at home to LSU and won outright at Cincy. Meanwhile, Clemson owns a 4-2 spread record in six games as a single-digit ‘chalk.’

The ‘under’ has cashed in five consecutive Clemson games and seven of its last nine. For the year, however, the ‘under’ is just 7-6 overall as the ‘over’ hit in four straight to start the year for the Tigers. They have had three totals in the 60s with the ‘under’ going 2-1 in those contests.

The ‘over’ hit in WVU’s first eight games before the ‘under’ cashed in its last three. (Remember, all wagers were ‘no plays’ in WVU’s season opener vs. Marshall because the game was called due to weather before 55 minutes had been played.)

Kickoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. Eastern on ESPN.

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

–Clemson and West Va. have met just once previously when the Tigers beat the Mountaineers 27-7 in the 1989 Gator Bowl.

–WVU has lost back-to-back bowl games by double-digit margins. The Mountaineers won their four previous bowl games behind QB Pat White, who is the only QB in college football history to lead a team to four postseason victories.

–Clemson is 1-2 both SU and ATS in three bowl games on Swinney’s watch. The Tigers lost a 31-26 decision to South Florida in last year’s Meineke Car Care Bowl.

–Terry Bowden is getting the old band back together. Actually, not really, but the new Akron head coach has hired Chuck Amato as his new associate head coach and defensive coordinator. Amato worked as an assistant at FSU under Bobby Bowden for 21 years. Amato was the head coach at N.C. St. from 2000-2006. I nominate Jeff Bowden for offensive coordinator.

–Bets on sides resulted in a push in last night’s Sugar Bowl, where Michigan beat Va. Tech 23-20 in overtime as a three-point favorite. The 43 combined points fell ‘under’ the total that closed in the 52-53 range at most spots. During the Hokies’ possession to begin the extra session, Va. Tech senior WR Danny Coale appeared to make an incredible TD catch in the corner of the end zone. In fact, the official looking right at it ruled it a score and nothing on replay seemed to indisputably suggest otherwise. But the Pac-12 replay official reversed the call and then the Hokies missed a field goal on the following play. This set up Michigan for its 37-yard FG to win, while Coale’s career-capping catch went for naught.

–Boise St. would’ve beaten both Va. Tech and Michigan by at least three TDs last night.

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