College Football

Orange Bowl 2014: Top Players to Watch in Clemson vs. Ohio State

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 07:  Quarterback Braxton Miller #5 of the Ohio State Buckeyes delivers a pass during the Big Ten Conference Championship game against the Michigan State Spartans at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 7, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Timothy RappFeatured ColumnistJanuary 3, 2014

While the BCS National Championship Game is the only bowl that actually matters and the Stanford-Michigan State game was the most intriguing from a traditional, smashmouth football sense, there isn't a BCS bowl capable of providing more fireworks than the Orange Bowl between Clemson and Ohio State.

There are stars, explosive offenses, smart coaches, proud programs, oranges! Okay, so the last bit doesn't really mean anything, but you can bet this game will be memorable. Or at least it looks like it should be memorable on paper.

But which players will rise above the rest? Who are the stars you should be focusing on? Are these rhetorical questions getting you excited to read this article?

If you answered "Yes," enjoy!

 

Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

COLUMBIA, SC - NOVEMBER 30:  Sammy Watkins #2 of the Clemson Tigers listens to music as he warms up before their game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Williams-Brice Stadium on November 30, 2013 in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Leck
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

If you had to pick a handful of the most entertaining college players to watch this season, Watkins would most definitely make the cut. 

Watkins was excellent again in 2013, finishing the season with 85 receptions for 1,237 yards and 10 touchdowns. He can stretch defenses vertically, burn defenders after the catch and was a huge reason why Clemson had the No. 11 pass attack in the country this season. 

As Brian Bennett of ESPN.com notes, Ohio State's pass defense isn't exactly stingy:

Ohio State's pass defense was in tatters by the end of the season, giving up 451 yards through the air to Michigan and allowing Michigan State's Connor Cook to throw for 300 yards in the Big Ten title game loss. Add to that the uncertain status of top cornerback Bradley Roby(bone bruise on his knee) and top pass-rusher Noah Spence (personal reasons) and there could be issues.

Defensive coordinator Luke Fickell is putting true freshman Vonn Bell into the lineup at nickelback and moving Tyvis Powell to starting safety in an attempt to shore up the pass defense. But if Ohio State doesn't show major improvement in the secondary and make up for the possible loss of Roby and Spence, it could mean a huge night for the Clemson stars. 

A surefire first-round pick, Watkins will have the chance to showcase why he is deserving of top-10 selection. Expect him to take advantage of that opportunity.

 

Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State

Half quarterback, half running back, Braxton Miller is just fun to watch. For the second straight year, he's eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards (1,033 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground) while also passing for 1,860 yards, 22 touchdowns and just five interceptions. 

Clemson allowed just 351.2 yards (23rd in the nation) and 21.1 points per contest (17th), but Miller is going to present the Tigers with a stiff test.

Few players in college football are as dangerous as Miller, and if Ohio State is going to win this game, it will be behind a huge performance from its star quarterback.

 

Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson

COLUMBIA, SC - NOVEMBER 30:  Tajh Boyd #10 of the Clemson Tigers drops back to pass during their game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Williams-Brice Stadium on November 30, 2013 in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Another dual-threat quarterback, Boyd does the majority of the damage with his arm. He threw for 3,473 yards and 29 touchdowns to just nine interceptions, completing 67.6 percent of his passes, but also rushed for 273 yards and nine touchdowns.

Ohio State is going to struggle to slow down Watkins and Martavis Bryant, which means that Boyd could be in line for a mammoth game through the air. Of course, if the Buckeyes focus too much on solidifying the secondary or go all out with pressure, Boyd will make them pay with his legs.

In other words, good luck, Ohio State defense.

 

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