National Coach of the Year Dabo Swinney and his #1 ranked, undefeated, ACC Champion (13-0, 9-0 ACC) Clemson Tigers will kick off the second-annual College Football Playoff in the Capital One Orange Bowl against Bob Stoops' fourth-ranked, 11-1, Big-12 Champion Oklahoma Sooners for a spot in the national championship game on January 11, 2016. Familiarity abounds in this side of the playoff bracket, as Oklahoma and Clemson squared off last year in the Russell Athletic Bowl, and both teams feature dynamic quarterbacks, powerful rushing attacks, explosive passing games, and stout defenses. On paper, this one looks about as close as it can get in terms of talent and season-long statistical productivity. Whether or not that paper-proficiency translates to real-time on-the-field success will be revealed Thursday afternoon at 4pm in Miami, Florida's Sun Life Stadium.
Clemson enters the 2015 Orange Bowl with a 19-18 (.514 winning percentage) bowl record, which ranks seventeenth all-time in terms of overall victories. Oklahoma sports an impressive 28-19-1 (.594 winning percentage) bowl record to rank third all-time. The 2015 Tigers will make the program's sixth Orange Bowl appearance, Clemson having compiled a 3-2 record in its five previous trips to Miami. Those three victories include the first Orange Bowl for the program in 1951, a thrilling last-second 15-14 defeat of the Miami Hurricanes to finish off a 9-0-1 1950 season for Frank Howard's "Country Gentlemen." The second win stands as the most significant victory in program history, the 22-15 triumph over Tom Osborne's Nebraska Cornhuskers in 1982 to cap a perfect 12-0 season and claim the school's only football national championship in 1981. And the final victory came just two years ago, when the Tigers topped the Ohio State Buckeyes 40-35 to complete an 11-2 campaign. The Tigers also lost Orange Bowl contests to Colorado (27-21 in 1957) and West Virginia (70-33 in 2012). Oklahoma, meanwhile, will be making its nineteenth Orange Bowl appearance, having compiled a 12-6 record in its previous eighteen Miami matchups.
The 2015 Orange Bowl Playoff matchup will be just the fifth all-time meeting between Clemson and Oklahoma on the gridiron, with the series deadlocked at 2-2. Both of Oklahoma's wins took place in Norman, OK, the first a 31-14 Sooner victory in 1963, and the second a 52-3 drubbing of the Tigers in 1972. The Tigers have won both neutral-site matchups, the first in the 1989 Citrus Bowl in Orlando, FL by a 13-6 margin, the second just last year in the 40-6 Russell Athletic Bowl shellacking. The two have never squared off in Death Valley.
In the 1989 Florida Citrus Bowl, Danny Ford's #9 Clemson Tigers came in at 9-2 to take on Barry Switzer's #10 Oklahoma Sooners, also 9-2. The game was a defensive slugfest, as the opposing option offenses struggled to move the ball consistently throughout. The Sooners wishbone offense drew first blood with a first-quarter field goal, but the Tigers offense answered in the second with two Chris Gardocki field goals, the second as time expired in the first half, to take a 6-3 lead into the locker room. Clemson managed the only touchdown of the game, a 4-yard toss-sweep by start running back Terry Allen that capped a 15-play, 81-yard drive. Allen paced the Tiger offense, finishing with 56 yards rushing, 47yards receiving, and the game-winning touchdown. Quarterback Rodney Williams led the Tigers to victory for the thirty-second time in his final game, making him the winningest signal-caller in Clemson football history (32-10-2, a mark since tied by Tajh Boyd, who compiled a 32-8 as a starter between 2011 and 2013). The Tiger defense, which had held down Oklahoma's explosive wishbone attack (averaged 343 yards rushing per game during the regular season) all day (116 yards rushing, 138 yards passing), thwarted a last-second threat from Sooner QB Jamelle Hollieway by batting a pass down in the end zone to secure the edge-of-your-seat victory.
The loss would prove to be Barry Switzer's last game as the head coach of the Sooners, who had been indicted for numerous NCAA violations before the contest, and were placed on probation that, among other things, prevented them from appearing in bowl games or on television until the 1991 season. His sixteenth and final Sooner team finished the year at 9-3 (6-1 Big 8) and ranked fourteenth in the polls. Danny Ford's ACC Champion Tigers ended the year at 10-2 (6-1 ACC) and #9 in the final polls, the second of what would be four straight ten-win seasons for the Clemson program (1987-1990).
The 2014 Russell Athletic Bowl between Clemson and Oklahoma hardly requires rehashing. Senior quarterback Cole Stoudt played the game of his career, passing for 319 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for another score. Wide receivers Artavis Scott and Mike Williams both topped 100 yards receiving and hauled in a touchdown each. And the nation's number one defense stayed true to form in absolutely stifling the Sooners' vaunted offensive attack, giving up just 275 total yards (103 passing, 172 rushing), with much of that paltry production coming once the game was well in hand and defensive backups took the field. The Tigers forced the Oklahoma offense into five turnovers (two fumbles, three interceptions) in routing the Sooners 40-6. Clemson ended the year 10-3 (6-2 ACC) and fifteenth in the country, while Oklahoma finished 8-5 (5-4 BIG-12) and unranked.
Despite the familiarity engendered by last year's beat down, both teams enter the 2015 rematch in very different positions with vastly different mentalities. Both won their conference championship, both will feature explosive quarterbacks that were not on the field a year ago, and both have the supreme confidence that comes with their stellar records and national rankings. And this year the stakes are much higher. In addition to a fun-filled bowl trip and all the "swag" that entails comes the potential opportunity to play for a national championship and the ultimate "swag"âa title trophy and championship rings. Having already claimed their fifteenth ACC crown this year, the 2015 Tigers look to continue their 15 for '15 quest by dismantling the Oklahoma Sooners in Miami and punching their ticket for Glendale, AZ to play for it all.
Happy New Year & GO TIGERS!