Tigers, Mountaineers took different routes to Miami

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and Andre Branch celebrate the Tigers' victory over Virginia Tech on Saturday that clinched the ACC title and a berth in the Orange Bowl.

MIAMI — West Virginia needed three harrowing wins. Clemson rode the power of a blowout.


Different methods, same reward. The Mountaineers and Tigers are heading to the Orange Bowl.

The matchup was announced Sunday night and, given the events of the weekend, was hardly a surprise. Clemson (10-3) earned an automatic berth by soundly beating Virginia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game on Saturday night.

West Virginia (9-3) took a more eventful road, first edging South Florida on Thursday night, next getting a colossal boost when Cincinnati beat Connecticut on Saturday.

Had Cincinnati lost that game, Louisville would have almost certainly represented the Big East in the Bowl Championship Series.

Instead, it’s the Mountaineers who were the Orange Bowl’s pick to join the Tigers.

The Orange Bowl is Jan. 4 in Miami.

West Virginia’s BCS hopes were, at best, dim after losing 38-35 to Louisville on Nov. 5. The Mountaineers had three games left, two of them on the road, knew they had to win them all to have any realistic shot at one of football’s big-money games, and trailed in the fourth quarter in each of those contests before beating Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and then South Florida.

“Well, real simple. For three weeks in a row we’ve put ourselves in precarious situations to where we’ve figured out a way to win at the end,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said after the Mountaineers won Thursday night. “Give the guys a bunch of credit for hanging in there.”

Clemson had eyes on the BCS all season. The Tigers were never ranked at any point in 2010, but rose all the way to No. 6 this year after an 8-0 start. A loss to Georgia Tech started a downward spiral, where Clemson lost three of its last four games.

The Tigers looked shaky – that is, until Saturday night. Clemson got touchdowns on its first four second-half possessions of the ACC title game, turning a matchup that was a 10-10 tie at halftime into what would go into the books as a 38-10 rout of Virginia Tech.

So 30 years later, the Tigers are back in the Orange Bowl.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to announce that I will be taking my Clemson talents to South Beach, baby,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said after the ACC title game. “I wanted to say that. We’re excited. Man, it’s just a great time. Awfully excited about going to Miami.”