The most anticipated game of the college football season might be the Fiesta Bowl and College Football Playoff semi-final matchup between the no. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes of the Big Ten and the no. 3 Clemson Tigers of the ACC. Kickoff is set for 8:00 EST on Saturday, December 28 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.
According to our college bowl game betting odds, the Tigers are 2-point favorites over Ohio State. The game also has an over/under of 63.5 points.
There might have been some concern for Ohio State when Urban Meyer retired after last season. But it’s safe to say the Buckeyes are doing just fine with Ryan Day at head coach. Ohio State breezed through their season almost effortlessly, winning all 13 games by double digits. With nine games against bowl teams and five games against teams that played in their conference title game, Ohio State’s schedule was by no means as easy as the Buckeyes made it look.
As a result, the Buckeyes are in the College Football Playoff for the third time since the format started in 2014. Of course, Ohio State was the national champion that year, beating both Alabama and Oregon on their way to the title. In fact, Ohio State has won five of their last six bowl games since 2014, including last year’s Rose Bowl win over Washington.
Clemson had a season quite similar to Ohio State. The Tigers survived a scare from North Carolina in late September, but every game after that was a no-contest win. Despite the ACC getting a bad reputation for being down this year, Clemson ended up beating eight bowl-eligible teams on their way to going 13-0 and capturing their fifth straight ACC championship.
In addition to winning five straight ACC titles, the Tigers are also going to the CFP for the fifth straight year. They own a 5-2 record in Playoff games and have won two of the last three national championships. After last year’s national championship and this year’s perfect regular season, Dabo Swinney’s team has now won 28 consecutive games, a streak they’ll put on the line against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.
Of course, these two teams met in the Fiesta Bowl three years ago, also in a national semi-final. Clemson, who was led by Deshaun Watson at the time, crushed Ohio State 31-0 in that game. Swinney’s Tigers also beat the Buckeyes 40-35 in the Orange Bowl following the 2013 season. Needless to say, Ohio State is in search of a little redemption against Clemson.
Let’s be honest, this game is a tossup. Either one of these teams could win the national championship and nobody would be surprised. It’s hard to say with any conviction that you thing one team is better than the other. With that in mind, I’ll side with Clemson because I think their experience and success in the CFP is more valuable than Ohio State’s revenge factor. The 2-point spread probably won’t come into play, so I’ll lean toward the Tigers.
One of the few differences between these two teams is at the line of scrimmage. Ohio State has allowed 31 sacks this season while Clemson has only allowed 13. Obviously, part of that is because the Buckeyes have played a more challenging schedule. But that’s still a sizable difference indicating one potential weakness for Ohio State. The Tigers may not be as strong on the defensive line as they were a year ago, losing so much talent to the NFL after last season. However, there is no shortage of talent or depth on the Clemson defensive line and they usually find a way to disrupt the opposing quarterback.
Keep in mind that OSU quarterback Justin Fields took nine sacks over the final three games of the season when the Buckeyes played teams with talent more akin to what they’ll see against Clemson. Fields took some hits in those games and the Ohio State offense stalled at times. Also, keep in mind that Fields had limited experience as a starter before this season. Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables is a master of confusing quarterbacks with unfamiliar looks. He’ll no doubt have a plan in place to throw looks at Fields he hasn’t seen before, which is one way the Tigers may be able to slow down the Ohio State offense.
On the other side of the ball, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence has traded in gaudy numbers for efficiency. After throwing five interceptions in his first three games, he has thrown just three interceptions over his last 10. In fact, he hasn’t thrown an interception in six straight games, connecting on over 75% of his passes during that span. He’s mature far beyond his years. Lawrence doesn’t force things, doesn’t take many risks, and doesn’t make mistakes he knows will hurt his team.
Of course, Lawrence can do this because he knows the rest of his team is good enough to win when he plays like that. The Tigers have wide receivers in Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross who are matchup nightmares for just about secondary in the country. Clemson also has a running back in Travis Etienne who averages over eight yards per carry. Lawrence trusts that if he’s safe with the ball, the guys around him will be able to make plays.
Obviously, the margins here are razor-thin, making this game almost too close to call. However, I like Clemson a little more than Ohio State. I think the Tigers have an edge in both coaching and experience, which can make all the difference in a game like this. If I had to make a choice, I’d take Clemson to win by a field goal and advance to another national championship game.