Tajh Boyd is one of the two dynamic QB's in the Orange Bowl. (Bob Leverone - AP)

Orange Bowl-West Virginia vs Clemson-Pick and Analysis

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An action-packed and exciting bowl season continues tonight with another game with all the potential to be another close, high-scoring game like its fellow-BCS bowls the Fiesta Bowl and Rose Bowl. These two offense don’t have the overall ranking or national acclaim of Oklahoma State, Oregon, or Stanford, but they have athletes that can make a highlight and electrify an arena with every touch of the ball. It’ll be a good one, and here’s how I see it playing out:

Bowl Breakdown: The focal points of both these offenses is their quarterbacks, who led them to top 30 national rankings in points scored, passing yards, and total yards. The two teams offenses are similar, but their path to the Orange Bowl has been radically different.

West Virginia started the year 3-0 before facing then-#2 LSU, who crushed them 47-21, but even in that game QB Geno Smith looked good against the powerful Tigers defense setting school records completions (38), attempts (65) and passing yards (463). The other 2 blemishes on the Mountaineers record come from in-conference losses to Syracuse on the road and Louisville at home. The 3 games since the Louisville loss were close, but WVU beat Cincinnati (24-21), Pitt (21-20), and South Florida (30-27) to close out the season and claim the Big East title.

Smith’s main targets in the passing game are Jr WR Tavon Austin ans Sophomore WR Stedman Bailey. Bailey is the deep threat with Austin usually getting his work done from the slot. West Virginia doesn’t have a great running game (ranked 100 in the nation in yards per game), but they run enough to keep the defense honest.

The Clemson offense is more balanced with RB Andre Ellington rushing for over 1,000 yards and 10 TDs to help take the pressure of QB Tajh Boyd. Boyd excelled when he put the ball in the air throwing for more TDs but less yards than his counter-part Geno Smith. His top two targets were Jr. tight end Dwayne Allen, and freshman receiver Sammy Watkins. Watkins can flat out fly and according to orangeandwhite.com (A great Clemson athletics blog) set 14 single-game or single-season freshman records this season, and has a few more to shoot for against West Virginia. It’ll be interesting to see how the 3-3-5 stack defense of WVU tries to slow down this dynamic offense. The extra speed with the stack would seem to be the right way to take away some of what Watkins brings but could set up for a huge game from Allen.

The Clemson season was highlighted by 2 big wins over ACC rival and fellow BCS-bowler Virginia Tech who last night ________________. Before dropping the Hokies in the ACC championship, the Tigers had lost 3 of 4, but all were losses to bowl teams (Georgia Tech, NC State, and South Carolina) and the overall strength of Clemson’s schedule is much better than what the Mountaineers faced in the Big East, although they did have a tough non-conference schedule.

Both teams have dynamic return men and there should be some great plays to watch on special teams as well. Tavon Austin handles return duties for WVU and Sammy Watkins will try and match him in the Clemson return game.

What makes me pick Clemson to win this one by 10-14 points is the defensive front of the Tigers. Led by Brandon Thompson and Andre Branch who led the team with 10.5 sacks they should dominate a WVU offensive line that has struggled both in pass protection and run-blocking throughout the year. Both teams are dynamite on offense and there will be big plays for both sides, but Clemson’s balance on offense and  their ability to pressure Smith are the 2 main reasons I’m going orange in this one.

Pro Prospects: Brandon Thompson-Clemson-DT: Thompson is a good pass rusher who affects the game beyond what the pure numbers would indicate. He’s probably an early 2nd round pick, but may sneak into the 1st with good pre-draft workouts. Andre Branch-Clemson-DE: Branch is another pass-rusher off the Clemson line that will be playing Sunday’s next year. He’ll probably go off the board in the 3rd round ans could develop into a very nice rusher off the edge. Dwayne Allen-Clemson-TE: Allen is a two-way TE who excels at both receiving and blocking. He’s one of the top TE’s in this year’s draft class. He’s not especially fast and isn’t the next Graham or Gronkowski, but will be a good blocker and red-zone target coming off the board in the 2nd or 3rd round… Bruce Irvin-WVU-LB: Most of the Mountaineers offensive talent will be back for an encore next year, but one good prospect on the defensive side is Bruce Irvin. He’s a raw prospect whose stock has slipped a little this year but should go in the 3rd round to a team that can help him develop into a big-time rusher.

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Tags: Bowl Mania Bowl Picks Clemson College Football Predictions Geno Smith Orange Bowl Tajh Boyd West Virginia

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