MIAMI — Going into their last outing (the Big Ten Championship), the Ohio State Buckeyes were figuring their following tilt would be taking place in southern California.
However, Michigan State decided to take the ticket and run to the west coast, leaving the No. 8 Buckeyes (12-1) traveling south for the winter to Miami to take on No. 12 Clemson in the Discover Orange Bowl.
"Obviously, we're not going to where we thought we were going or where we wanted to be going, but we're playing in the Orange Bowl and that's a big-time bowl game," Ohio State senior offensive tackle Jack Mewhort said. "When you start going back to the coulda, woulda, shouldas, that's poisonous for a team.
"It's our job as leaders to look ahead and make sure everybody is doing their business."
Buckeyes' all-American linebacker Ryan Shazier, a native of south Florida, is one of those leaders.
"It's really big for us right now because it is a championship series bowl game," Shazier said Sunday. "We're going to come in here and try to do what we can do for the Big Ten and for Ohio State and try to get this W."
The task will not be a simple one for the Buckeyes, though.
Ohio State will be facing Clemson (10-2), a squad that has averaged 40.2 points (10th in FBS) and 502 yards (14th FBS) per contest, and is led by one of the most dangerous players in all of college football in senior quarterback Tajh Boyd.
Boyd, who almost signed with Ohio State coming out of high school, has thrown for 3,473 yards and 29 touchdowns this season and possesses a QB efficiency rating of 166.6 (7th in FBS). He has also rushed for 273 yards and nine scores on the ground.
"I've been watching Tajh Boyd play for many years now and I think he's transitioned from a good player to a great player," Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said. "He's a dynamic thrower. And as with most excellent quarterbacks, his surrounding cast might be the best in America."
That surrounding cast is led by junior wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
Watkins, who is being tabbed as a top five pick in the upcoming NFL Draft (if he decides to come out), has had a spectacular season, hauling in 85 receptions for 1,237 yards and 10 touchdowns. He has recorded at least 100 yards receiving in more than half of the Tigers' games this season.
"They have a lot of good athletes," Shazier said. "This might be the best passing team we’re going to face this whole season."
The Buckeyes' defense made Michigan State's passing game look like the Denver Broncos, giving up more than 300 yards to a team who wasn't known for their aerial exploits.
Clemson, on the other hand, will explode the scoreboard if the Buckeyes' defense doesn't adjust. Asked how to remedy the situation, Meyer kept it simple.
"We just have to play better."
Clemson is going to score points and rack up plenty of yardage on Ohio State. The key will be the Buckeyes' offense.
As great as the Tigers have been this season, the Buckeyes have been even more explosive. Led by two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year in junior quarterback Braxton Miller, the Buckeyes have scored 46.3 points (4th in FBS) and generated 518.5 yards (8th in FBS) per game this season.
"We haven't seen a guy like him," Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said of Miller. "He is a running back at quarterback, a legit 4.4 guy. He can flat-out run, so you don't have a lot of room for error with him.
"You see a lot of good running quarterbacks that might get a big run for 20 yards. This guy's running for 50, 60, 70 and leaving people."
The Tigers have some what struggled against the run this season, and will face a Buckeye attack that possesses two 1,000 rushers in Miller and senior Carlos Hyde and rank third nationally in rushing — totaling 317.5 yards per game, as well as 42 total touchdowns on the ground.
"He's a human highlight reel. He's done it against everybody, multiple times every game," Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. "He can flip the field in a hurry. He's a handful."
"It's a chess match," Venables continued.
This game will surely be a classic, and one for those fans who like to see offensive fireworks.
It will certainly be a "chess match."
But in the end, look for Miller to provide the checkmate.
Lee's prediction: OSU 48-42