The Times’ college football countdown: No.19 Clemson

Clemson scored first and last against West Virginia in the last Orange Bowl, but not enough in between to prevent it from becoming the Lemon Bowl.

Losing the second quarter, 35-3, was no way to go into halftime as national television cameras focused on the locker room door with rumors circulating one team might not come out.

Clemson knuckled down and ended up holding West Virginia under 100, losing only 70-33, which led to an off-season of introspection and the semi-delusional repositioning of the program’s place in the college universe.

“I’m not here to talk about the Orange Bowl,” Coach Dabo Swinney told reporters at Atlantic Coast Conference media day. “I’m here to talk about 2012 and the upcoming season.”

Don’t tell Swinney, but this upcoming season ends with the national title game played . . . on Orange Bowl grounds.

Clemson will be hard-pressed to repeat as ACC champion even though you can bet its fans think they should be on their way to the Bowl Championship Series title parade. Winning a national title and going 12-0 in 1981 under Danny Ford has stricken Tigers fans with the notion it can happen again, despite the reality that Clemson’s ACC title last year was its first in 20 years.

“That’s our expectation at Clemson,” Swinney said. “That’s our goal. To win them all. Simple as that. I know it’s only happened once . . . but this is a school that’s done it.”

Swinney noted Clemson has won as many national titles since 1981 as Texas, “where they print their own money.”

Fans and media alike get enamored of Clemson this time of year because the Tigers always look good in their uniforms. In many cases, though, sizzle leads to fizzle. Clemson started 8-0 last year before losing four of its last six.

Clemson is talented again at three key power positions. Quarterback Tajh Boyd, tailback Andre Ellington and receiver Sammy Watkins are as good a 1-2-3 punch as there is in college football.

Boyd threw for 3,828 yards last season, with 33 touchdowns; Ellington rushed for 1,178 and 11 touchdowns.

Slight problem: Watkins, a sensational sophomore, must sit out the first two games after an off-season arrest for marijuana and controlled-substance possession.

The coach considered a longer suspension for Watkins but, surprise, Swinney said Watkins “has done everything we have asked and then some.”

Clemson loses three starters on the offensive line and three on defense, which may be a blessing considering the Tigers’ defense finished No. 71 nationally and allowed 595 yards in the Orange Bowl.

Brent Venables, in one of the more notable off-season coaching coordinator transactions, was wooed away from Oklahoma to put some teeth into the Tigers’ defense.

Clemson had a disappointing Orange Bowl finish and has historically underachieved. So, while there is gush over the promise of another Clemson sunrise, we’re going let this play out through sunset.

The countdown so far: The countdown so far: 25. Notre Dame; 24. Texas Christian; 23. Utah; 22. Kansas State; 21. Louisville; 20. Boise State; 19. Clemson.