The two schools were meeting for the second time. Coming into the game, Clemson had a 1–0 record over WVU, with a 27–7 victory in the 1989 Gator Bowl. This was Clemson's fourth appearance in the Orange Bowl, while it marked the first time WVU had been invited. Both teams averaged at least 33 points and over 440 yards per game.
West Virginia finished the season in a three-way tie for the Big East title, but earned the conference's BCS bid since it was the highest-ranked team in the final BCS rankings. The team scored 419 points (34.9 per game) this season, fourth highest average in school history. The Mountaineers scored 30 or more points in eight games, 40 or more points in four games and 50 or more points in two games during 2011. This year's team set a new school mark in the passing game (4,102 yards) with receiver Stedman Bailey accounting for 1,197 yards (a school record) and scoring 11 touchdowns.
Clemson won its first ACC Championship in 20 years and earned an appearance in its first major bowl since 1981. The Tigers were 21st in the nation in passing with 285 yards per game. The team was led by quarterback Tajh Boyd, who was 18th in total offense, and by wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who was fourth in the nation with 173 yards per game. Watkins was also rated top-25 in receptions per game and kickoff returns.