MIAMI (AP) — Clemson coach Dabo Swinney remembers his players being "blown away" by their images wrapped around buses when they arrived in South Florida for the Orange Bowl four years ago.
They saw those same buses waiting on the tarmac for them again when they landed in Fort Lauderdale late Saturday afternoon — more than four hours after their opponent, Oklahoma, arrived in Miami. But this time there was no awe for the Tigers, who descended the stairs from their plane in stylish suits and ties, dressed very much like the nation's top-ranked team.
Making its third Orange Bowl appearance in five years, the lone unbeaten FBS team will face fourth-seeded Oklahoma in a College Football Playoff semifinal at Sun Life Stadium on New Year's Eve.
"The guys were excited (flying here) because they know we're in the final four," Swinney said. "We started the year with hopes to achieve this. So to get on the plane today, to know that it's finally here ... and to actually get here, you feel like time is ticking quickly."
Just like the Sooners (11-1), the Tigers (13-0) were greeted with water cannons from two fire trucks showering their plane with a welcome blast, as well as an orange carpet lined with orange-jacketed Orange Bowl Committee members handing them fresh oranges.
"Good to be back," Swinney told them through a wide grin. He told the media a few minutes later, "It's always neat when you come to the Orange Bowl because you don't usually have a welcome like this. I'm not sure if anybody was there when we pulled up last year. I don't know."
Clemson beat Oklahoma 40-6 at the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando last season, but Oklahoma receiver Sterling Shepard said Saturday it's two different teams.
"It feels completely different from last year," he said.
While Clemson landed at 5:30 p.m., an hour later than scheduled because of mechanical problems with their plane before takeoff, the Sooners had no travel issues despite severe weather in Norman, Oklahoma.
They arrived on time at 1 p.m. After lunch and a team meeting, they practiced for the first time in Miami at Barry University.
"This is a big opportunity. It's not about getting here. It's about winning it," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. "Hopefully, our guys will keep preparing that way."
Swinney's message to his team: "Just continue to be who we are."
Clemson practiced inside Memorial Stadium before flying down Monday. Swinney called it one of the team's best practices of the season, adding, "Everybody was there early, dialed in and ready to work."
Stoops said the Sooners have had a strong couple of weeks of practices in Norman. They practiced in their indoor facility and raised the temperature "as high as it would go," Stoops said, to simulate the conditions in South Florida.
"We had the heat cranked up," Stoops said. "A little different here, though."
Oklahoma played at Sun Life against Florida in the 2008 BCS Championship, but that game kicked off at night as opposed to the 4 p.m. kickoff against Clemson. It has been unusually warm here this month even by South Florida standards — 82 degrees and bright sunshine when the Sooners arrived Monday.
Most of the OU players wore sweat shirts as they disembarked Monday.
"I got off the plane and felt this heat and it was pretty similar to what we were practicing in indoors," Shepard said. "So I think it was good for us."