COLUMBUS — A day later, the Ohio State football team stopped to smell the roses.
Just not the ones they hoped.
OSU will play Clemson in the Orange Bowl and — make no mistake — it is a consolation prize.
The Buckeyes left Lucas Oil Stadium dazed and devastated after Saturday night’s Big Ten championship stunner, their season falling one game short of a trip to the national title game at the Rose Bowl.
Coach Urban Meyer, his gaze vacant, called the 34-24 loss to Michigan State haunting. Defensive lineman Joey Bosa trudged off the field in tears. And star running back Carlos Hyde simply said, "We hurt right now."
Yet armed with perspective, Ohio State embraced the opportunity to punctuate its once-dream season with a feel-good finish.
The Buckeyes (12-1), who finished seventh in the final BCS standings released Sunday night, will play No. 12 Clemson (10-2) at 8:30 p.m. on Jan. 3 at Sun Life Stadium. It is their ninth appearance in a BCS game — tied with Oklahoma for the most trips — and their first since the 2010 Sugar Bowl against Arkansas.
“I think it means a lot for us to go back and play in a BCS bowl game,” said senior left tackle Jack Mewhort, a St. John’s Jesuit graduate. "To get a win in a big-time bowl and at the same time show some resiliency would be a great way to go out. I couldn’t ask at this point for anything more ... and getting to go to battle with these guys I’ve been fortunate to play with for the last four or five years will be great.”
Coach Urban Meyer’s biggest job, meanwhile, is to refocus OSU, which will soon return to practice coming off a loss for the first time in two years. The Buckeyes had won a national-best 24 straight games.
Meyer said he worried about the response of a team "down in the dumps," but only "because I worry about everything."
"They're heartbroken, but they're competitors," he said. "I think the fact that they’re playing in a BCS game against Clemson, that's going to wake you up real fast. There's no doubt in my mind they'll be excited to play this game.
The Buckeyes will see a lot of themselves in Clemson, which has the same trifecta of a prolific offense, shaky defense, and scrutinized resume.
While All-American senior quarterback Tajh Boyd (3,473 passing yards, 29 touchdowns) and the Tigers’ offense piles up big numbers, they have only one win over a currently ranked team — a 38-35 home victory over No. 23 Georgia the opening week of the season. Clemson was thumped 51-14 by top-ranked Florida State and 31-17 by No. 8 South Carolina.
The Buckeyes, meanwhile, face questions of their own after falling to the only top-15 opponent they have played since 2011. Most pressingly, an oft-inept defense has allowed 75 points the past two weeks to Michigan and Michigan State. OSU ranks 104th nationally in allowing 259.5 pass yards per game.
The game will mark the Buckeyes’ second appearance in the Orange Bowl — they beat Colorado 27-10 in 1977 — and their second all-time meeting with Clemson.
Their first one featured the fateful final act of Woody Hayes’ legendary career when the OSU coach slugged Tigers linebacker Charlie Bauman at the end of the 1978 Gator Bowl.
Tickets are available on Ticketmaster.com, with prices ranging from $99 to $215, while the two schools will hold an upcoming public sale. Each side receives 17,500 tickets.
Contact David Briggs at: email@example.com, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @ DBriggsBlade.