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Orange Bowl 2012: The Clemson Tigers Will Beat the West Virginia Mountaineers

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Orange Bowl 2012: The Clemson Tigers Will Beat the West Virginia Mountaineers
Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

This Wednesday night Sun Life Stadium, situated in beautiful Miami Gardens, Florida, will play host to the 77th edition of the BCS Discover Orange Bowl.

The history-rich Orange Bowl was founded in 1935 and shares a birthday with fellow college football legendary institutions the Heisman Trophy, the Sugar Bowl and the Sun Bowl.

This year’s edition of the South Florida classic features No. 15 Clemson (10-3) vs. No. 23 West Virginia (9-3) and other than being an outstanding on field matchup, it is one of only four postseason games in 2012 that features the clash of two conference champions.

Yes, it’s the ACC title-holder Tigers vs. the Big East co-champion Mountaineers playing for one of college football’s most elite titles—an Orange Bowl championship.

The game itself features two squads that are almost eerily similar from a statistical standpoint.

Both Clemson and West Virginia are pass-centric teams that have averaged just over 33 points per game, have allowed 26 points per game defensively, have similar rated pass defenses and share comparable stats in an entire slew of numerical categories.

Yes, all indicators point to a very closely contested game between the two—an assertion validated by the odds makers who have Clemson as a narrow three-point favorite over West Virginia.

Despite the closeness of the two teams on paper, the very wonderful essence of sport dictates that there must be a winner and a loser. So we’ll delve deeper into the numbers to back up a bold prediction that Clemson will win the 2012 Orange Bowl.

Why?

First, Clemson is the more balanced of the two teams, with a passing attack that rates No. 21 in the nation and a rushing attack that rates No. 61.  This versus a West Virginia squad who has a 2012 ranking of No. 8 in passing and only No. 100 in rushing.

Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

The balance issue is obviously compounded by the loss of the Mountaineer’s top-producing back Dustin Garrison—who was responsible for 52 percent of WVU’s net rushing yards.

The second stat in the Tigers’ favor is the delicate combination of penalty yards and turnover margin, or the “mistake factor.”

In 2012, Clemson averaged 37.5 yards per game in penalties while West Virginia averaged 54.8. Add to this a turnover margin of plus-two for the Tigers vs. minus-two for the Mountaineers and you’ve got a case that one team wins the discipline battle.

Though both teams had a rash of turnovers that cost them games, overall West Virginia has given up more (especially from a fumble perspective) and taken away less.

The next significant numerical category up for review is third-down conversion percentage. Clemson’s success rate of 44.61 percent outdoes West Virginia’s mark of 38.41.

The difference might seem slight until you consider that the numbers net the Tigers the No. 34 ranking in third down conversions nationally, while the Mountaineers rank No. 85.

Another intriguing stat in favor of the orange-clad warriors is defensive and it concerns opponent’s red zone production.

Giving Clemson a bit of a “bend but don’t break” award is the fact that they have allowed foes in the end zone only 48.89 percent of the time when inside their 20-yard. West Virginia has allowed opponents a full six points 58.7 percent of the time.

Again, the national ranking is significant—Clemson No. 17, WVU No. 53.

Another worrying comparative stat for the Mountaineers is field goal percentage: They lag behind the Tigers 72.7 percent vs. 80 percent which never seems like a big deal until...well, it does.  See Alabama vs. LSU Part 1 for a full explanation of the significance of the kicking game.

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Though all these numbers point to a slight advantage in favor of the Tigers, what really tips the scales in the favor of Clemson is a brief analysis of who they’ve faced in 2012.

Indeed, all statistical comparisons must be viewed in the light of who the numbers were earned against to really hold any water, and that’s exactly why the Tigers look better on paper than do the worthy Mountaineers.

Though both teams played high quality non-conference foes early in the season (Clemson played Auburn and WVU played LSU) the Tigers finished up their regular season campaign with No. 12 South Carolina from the SEC and then convincingly beat then No. 5 Virginia Tech in the neutrally sited ACC title game.

Overall, Clemson has played five ranked opponents vs. West Virginia’s two ranked foes. Perhaps most significantly, the Tigers have faced seven opponents in 2012 that finished the year with a winning record, while the Mountaineers clashed with a mere five.

It’s true that you can’t—for the most part—control who you play each year (especially from a conference standpoint), but combined opponent strength goes a long way in explaining and justifying your statistical resume.

From a very broad perspective, if Clemson can manage to gain 100-plus yards on the ground, run the ball more than 30 times, find a way to shut down West Virginia through the air and limit their turnovers to two or less—they should win their second Orange Bowl title.

But, this is college football, and if it were that easy to pick a winner we’d all be watching tennis.

Marc Serota/Getty Images

West Virginia is a talented squad and if they can eliminate mistakes and get something going on the ground they’ll hold an advantage over a Clemson defense whose weakness has been against the run.

At the end of the day, this may be one of the best bowl games of the season. While it may not look like “the” marquis matchup on paper and lacks some of the hype of No. 1 vs. No. 2 and No. 3 vs. No. 4, this is a game that pits two conference champions against one another in a battle for one of the most prestigious titles in college football.

The 2012 Discover Orange Bowl is must-see T.V. and you must see it.

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