Final thoughts: Orange Bowl week

by - Senior Writer -

FORT LAUDERDALE, FL – It’s almost midnight and the Orange Bowl will be nearing its completion in about 24 hours. Will the Tigers emerge victorious, claiming a BCS win in the last year before the playoff starts? Will Ohio St. rebound from the disappointing loss in the B1G title game?

We obviously don’t know the answers to those questions, but I hope I can give you a little insight into what has transpired here in south Florida this week.

Let me start with Clemson’s practices here in the warmer temps. We were allowed to watch the beginning of a couple of the practices, and then we could watch the end of three through the fence (don’t tell anyone we could see). From everything I have seen and heard, this Clemson team was focused and dialed in. I managed to talk to several of the players, and they all said that Dabo SwinneyDabo Swinney
Head Coach
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scaled back the practice sessions from what they were two years ago – the team reached the practice field, got the work in and then headed back to the hotel for meetings.

Each one of the players said that compared to two years ago, they are all fresh and healthy and think it will make a difference once the game starts, especially if it’s warm.

The Orange Bowl hosted a media party Thursday night in the media hotel, and for the first time this week I got to sit down with some of the Ohio St. beat writers and get a feel for what they are thinking about the Buckeyes.

I first ran into a guy that runs one of their big websites, and I asked how he felt about the game. His answer said a lot when he said, “My heart tells me Ohio St. is going to win, but my mind and logic tell me that they won’t stop Clemson’s offense. If Clemson punts more than twice I would be surprised.”

I asked him about Ohio St.’s secondary, and he pointed that out as his biggest defensive concern, then mentioned the loss of edge rushing defensive end Noah Spence. I said that the big freshman defensive end, Joey Bosa, seemed quite capable of carrying the load, and he said that Bosa is different from Spence. Spence is the speed rusher, can disrupt the offense with his quickness, while Bosa is a bigger end and more of a threat on contain and the run game. That part of the matchup should be interesting.

I talked to another one of their beat writers, and he said that reports he was getting said that the Buckeyes’ practices were not as good as head coach Urban Meyer would have liked. He said that one coach told him that the Buckeye players were just going through the motions.

Will that make a difference Friday night? Maybe. But when the bright lights turn on, players and attitudes can change in a hurry. This one will come down to turnovers – if Clemson reprises its role of Santa Claus and rewards the Buckeyes with several gifts, it will be another long night in the Orange Bowl. If they take care of the football and don’t force things, that BCS win is there for the taking.

*Just for the record – the Ohio St. media seems to outnumber the Clemson media by about five to one. Not only that, but the media hospitality suite has pompoms at each table, and each and every one is in Ohio St. colors.

*I’ve managed to sneak around and ask as many people as possible – at least the ones that were allowed to be there through each practice – which redshirt freshman was the one that stood out, and they all said that running back Wayne GallmanWayne Gallman
Fr. Running Back
#9 6-1, 195
Loganville, GA

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looks the part of a big-time running back. I know the fans were and are excited about the potential of Tyshon DyeTyshon Dye
Fr. Running Back
#23 6-1, 205
Elberton, GA

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, but Gallman just looks like the real deal. Don’t be surprised if that cat comes out of the spring as the starting running back.

*Thanks to everybody for the engagement wishes. It’s been a whirlwind couple of weeks for us as we’ve let our families know our plans. I actually took her out to Colorado a few weeks ago – just before the start of bowl practice – and we went to a Denver Broncos game on Thursday night and then went up to Estes Park on Friday. I asked her in the snow on Friday afternoon. It’s been a wonderful three years with her, and it’s pretty neat when your significant other can travel with you on your job and does the same kind of work. And for the record, she would rather watch a football game or baseball game than a chick flick, and would rather go outside and play catch than go shopping. She’s a keeper.

*I know a lot of folks like to hear about how the media is treated at an event like this, and I can truthfully say the Orange Bowl goes all out. All press conferences were held here in the media hotel, so all we had to do was take an elevator to the bottom floor to go to work. Starting each night at seven, the media hospitality suite would open and they would have all kinds of free drinks and snacks, and most of us would gather on the big couches and watch football and talk football.

Thursday night, they hosted the big media bash, and put on quite a spread. They then rolled in blackjack tables, roulette wheels, poker tables and craps tables and brought in dealers from the local casinos. Each media member was given $500 in chips, and told to either increase their amount of “money” or lose it all. At the end of a couple of hours, you cashed in your chips for tickets. At the front of the room were several gifts – headphones, coolers, signed helmets, etc. – and you put in tickets in front of each gift. They then picked out the winning ticket numbers.

For the record – I won the most tickets (I took my $500 and turned it into almost $5000) and won nothing. Crump lost most of his at blackjack, wound up with just three tickets (to my 50) and wound up with three gifts. His best gift was a regulation size Riddell helmet that was Ohio St. on one side and Clemson on the other. Nice. Not that I’m bitter…….

*Finally – the previous three BCS games were all won by the underdog. Let’s hope that holds true tonight.

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