Getting the #1 seed in the College Football Playoff came with a really big prize. You still have to play the game against #4 Oklahoma, but it looked easier on the surface than playing Ohio State, Clemson, or LSU. Ohio State’s lackluster performance in the Big Ten Championship Game and LSU’s thorough beating of Georgia was enough to flip Ohio State from 1 to 2, so now they head out to Glendale, AZ to take on the Clemson Tigers in the Playstation Fiesta Bowl.
Clemson is favored by a deuce with a total of 63.5 for the second of the two semifinals with an 8 p.m. ET start time.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney has been beating the drum for his team to get more national respect because he didn’t want to play Ohio State or LSU in the semifinal and you cannot blame him for that. After all, Clemson is the reigning champion and hasn’t done anything wrong this season. It isn’t Clemson’s fault that Texas A&M has fallen off or that the ACC is not very good.
Unfortunately for Clemson, there should still be some sort of incentive for playing a tougher schedule. After all, LSU went undefeated against the 10th-ranked schedule and Ohio State did it against the 18th-ranked schedule. Clemson played the 61st-ranked schedule. LSU played six top-30 teams per Sagarin. Ohio State played four and beat three of them in a row to finish the regular season. It still wasn’t enough to put the Buckeyes in the #1 spot.
Many believe, despite Joe Burrow’s recent Heisman win, that these are the two best teams in the country. From a power ratings standpoint, they probably are. This is going to be a whale of a game and should be a lot more competitive than Clemson’s shutout win over Ohio State back in 2016.
These two teams are very similar. Clemson was fourth in yards per play with 7.51 and Ohio State was seventh with 7.02. The Buckeyes led the nation in yards per play allowed on defense with 3.93 and Clemson was second with 3.96. Again, there was an ample discrepancy in strength of schedule between the two teams over the course of the season.
To add to the similarities, both teams are losing a coordinator at the end of the playoff run. Clemson OC Jeff Scott took the job at USF and Ohio State co-DC Jeff Hafley will take over at Boston College and likely make Ohio State linebackers coach Al Washington his defensive coordinator. There shouldn’t be too many distractions and both staffs are world-class, but it is a factor to keep in mind.
Clemson averaged 6.46 yards per carry on 509 rushing attempts during the season, as Travis Etienne ripped off 8.2 yards per carry and 1,500 total. Ohio State was sixth in yards per carry with 5.67, but Justin Fields scrambles really cut down the per carry metrics, as he only had 3.8 on 123 tries. JK Dobbins found paydirt 20 times with 1,829 yards. In other words, both teams have very proficient running games.
Fields had 40 touchdowns against one interception in the passing game while completing 67.5% of his passes for 2,953 yards. Fields also had 10 rushing scores, so he wound up with 50 touchdowns. And still had no chance at the Heisman because of the year that Joe Burrow had.
Trevor Lawrence quietly put up huge numbers again with a 68.8% completion rate and a 34/8 TD/INT ratio. Elite athletes are at wideouts for both teams, with Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross as the headline grabbers for Clemson and a more balanced Ohio State attack with Chris Olave, KJ Hill, and the late-season emergence in the red zone of tight end Jeremy Ruckert.
There are plenty of ballers on defense, too, beginning with Chase Young. Young was actually ineffective against Michigan in a big spotlight game for the future top-three NFL Draft pick. Young had 16.5 sacks during the regular season. Clemson’s defense continues to reload after losing talent after talent in the front seven to the NFL. Star linebacker Isaiah Simmons is the best player on that side for Clemson, but he is hardly the only good one.
You’re going to watch this game, so you’re going to want action on it. I get it. We all get it. This is just a remarkably tight line. My personal line is Clemson -2.5, but we also have to decide how we want to evaluate Clemson because of the weak schedule. Ohio State will bring a level of athleticism that Clemson hasn’t seen at all this season. To a degree, you can say the same for Ohio State because the Big Ten has really good teams, but few programs can match Clemson’s talent.
This is one of those spots where you either want to take Clemson minus the points or the Ohio State money line, as this game seems extremely unlikely to land 1 or 2. Whichever side you like, think about the bet in that manner. As an Ohio State fan, it is really hard to know what to expect here. Ryan Day really tightened up against Penn State and wound up using the legs of Fields a lot more than he probably wanted to. If something similar happens here, then the under is in play because Fields is not a burner to create long gains.
We also haven’t seen Ohio State stretched vertically much. Clemson can do that. None of Ohio State’s other opponents can. If Chase Young and Baron Browning can’t get to Trevor Lawrence, Clemson can throw the ball vertical. Ultimately, that is my chief worry for Ohio State and why I would pick Clemson in this particular matchup. We also don’t know if three weeks is enough for Fields to get healthy because he didn’t look healthy at all against Wisconsin.
Pick: Clemson -2