Orange Bowl Preview Capsule
No. 4 Oklahoma (11-1) vs. No. 1 Clemson (13-0) at Miami Gardens, Florida, Thursday, 4 p.m. EST (ESPN)
Line: Oklahoma by 4.
Series record: Tied 2-2.
WHAT’S AT STAKE
Clemson is seeking its first national title since 1981 and trying to become the first team in FBS history to finish 15-0. None of that happens unless the Tigers can get past Oklahoma, a team they routed 40-6 last season in the Russell Athletic Bowl. The Sooners are perhaps the hottest team in the country — averaging 52 points over their last seven games — and eager to show just how far they’ve come since their last bowl appearance.
Oklahoma WR Sterling Shepard vs. Clemson CB Mackensie Alexander. Last year, these two got into quite a verbal tussle during pre-game warmups before the bowl. Alexander got the best of things on the field, holding Shepard to one reception. In better health and having toned down his trash-talking, Shepard is looking to bounce back against one of the nation’s top cornerbacks.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Oklahoma: QB Baker Mayfield. A former walk-on, the swaggering transfer from Texas Tech won the starting job after sitting out a season and turned in some staggering numbers: 68.6 completions, 3,389 yards, 35 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He reminds some of former Texas A&M star Johnny Manziel with the ability to improvise and bail out plays with his legs.
Clemson: QB Deshaun Watson. The other half of this much-anticipated quarterback duel, Watson was a Heisman Trophy finalist who did it all for the Tigers. He completed 69.5 percent of his throws for 3,512 yards and 30 touchdowns, with just 11 picks. He also is the Tigers’ second-leading rusher with 887 yards, averaging 5.4 yards per carry, and leads the team with 11 TDs.
FACTS & FIGURES
Oklahoma has averaged 52 points a game since losing to Texas in the Red River Showdown. ... Dabo Swinney went 19-15 in his first three seasons as Clemson’s coach, but he’s 55-11 since then. ... The Sooners have won seven Associated Press national championships, the most recent in 2000. Only Alabama (nine) and Notre Dame (eight) have won more. ... Samaje Perine is Oklahoma’s top rusher with 1,291 yards and 15, while Wayne Gallman leads Clemson on the ground with 1,332 yards and 10 TDs. ... The Tigers are undefeated despite a minus-2 turnover margin. The Sooners are plus-10. ... Clemson suspended three players for violating team rules, including speedy WR Deon Cain, who led the team with an average of 17.1 yards per catch. Still, the Tigers have eight other players with double-figure receptions. ... Clemson K Greg Huegel missed five extra points.
AP College Football website: http://www.collegefootball.ap.org