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Tigers eyeing good finish, strong start

Clemson is playing for more than its first BCS bowl victory and first major bowl win in 30 years when it meets West Virginia on Jan. 4 in the Orange Bowl.

Clemson players and coaches say a victory against the No. 23 Mountaineers can be a springboard for next season. The No. 14 Tigers (10-3) think a win will consolidate gains made in perception this fall and build positive momentum going forward, which could provide benefits on the field next season and on the recruiting trail this spring.

Quarterback Tajh Boyd said Clemson is traveling to Miami with a business mindset.

"(A win) would be a new attitude, momentum would be swinging upward heading into spring practice and things of that nature," Boyd said. "It would be a totally different view. We haven't won a major bowl game since (1982), and doing it right now would be huge for this program."

With a victory in the Orange Bowl, tight end Brandon Ford thinks Clemson would enter the 2012 season as a top 10 team. Clemson has not been ranked in the top 10 of The Associated Press preseason poll since 2008.

"It's very important," Ford said. "You set the stage for the next kids coming in and for the program, letting guys know this is what is at stake next year. I feel like this game right here will say a lot about this program.

"I think a big win will show everyone that Clemson is back."

If Clemson players and fans really want to dream big next season, a preseason top 10 ranking could be critical. Seven of the last 10 national champions began the season in the preseason top 10, and all began the season in the AP Top 25.

Clemson began this season unranked but rose to No. 5 in the BCS standings on Oct. 23. But the carry-over influence of bowl wins is subject to debate. Clemson won its 2009 bowl game and responded with a losing season in 2010. In 2010 Clemson lost its bowl game, then responded with its first 10-win season in 20 years this fall.

Still, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney believes a win in Miami could have a long lasting impact on the program.

"Winning breeds confidence and enthusiasm," Swinney said. "Had we won (the2009 ACC title game) it really would have given you more momentum like we had a couple weeks ago. It's great to get there. It's obviously a goal, as we've never been in a BCS game since they started that deal, but whether it's the BCS or whatever the lowest bowl is, you want to win. It's been a good season, we've done a lot of good things, but we need to finish this the right way."