Every bowl game this time of year is worth watching, but the Fiesta Bowl between the No. 3 Clemson Tigers and No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes on Saturday night might be the best bowl of the season. In this national semifinal matchup, the Tigers are 2.5-point favorites with an over/under of 63 points.
For the Buckeyes, the theme of this season was “No Urban Meyer, no problem.” Despite a change at head coach, Ohio State breezed through its season, winning all 13 games by double figures. That’s even more impressive when you consider that nine of its games were against bowl teams, including five games against teams that played in their respective conference championship games.
As for Clemson, it was also business as usual. The reigning national champions had one close call against North Carolina early in the season, stopping a two-point conversion late to secure the win. After that, no team got closer than 31 points to the Tigers, who will return to the College Football Playoff for the fifth straight season with a 28-game winning streak as they chase back-to-back titles and their third national championship in four years.
Play It Safe
Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence was viewed as a Heisman hopeful heading into the season. However, his stock dropped after some turnover issues early in the season. But the sophomore adjusted midseason, adopting a more conservative approach to his game.
As a result, he’s gone six straight games without throwing an interception while also completing over 75 percent of his passes during that time.
Somehow, Lawrence has turned into a glorified game manager who just happened to throw for over 3,000 yards and 34 touchdowns. Of course, the key to his success is a superb supporting cast. Running back Travis Etienne averaged over eight yards per carry on the season because he’s a home-run threat every time he touches the ball.
The Tigers also have a pair of receivers in Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross, who are each 6-4 and create matchup problems for every secondary they face.
Answer The Call
The Buckeyes were rarely challenged over the first two months of the season. But with games against Penn State and Michigan to close out the regular season and a rematch with Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game, Ohio State finally faced a little adversity. There were a few moments of doubt, but the Buckeyes were ultimately able to prevail against quality opponents.
To beat Clemson, the Buckeyes will have to keep the big plays coming. Quarterback Justin Fields took plenty of hits late in the year, and that may not change against the Tigers. But he can make up for it by using his athleticism to keep plays alive and challenging the Clemson secondary with deep passes.
It’s a similar scenario for running back J.K. Dobbins, who brought his best effort late in the year, averaging 180 rushing yards per game over Ohio State’s final three games.
The rules dictate that one of these teams must lose despite both entering the Fiesta Bowl undefeated. With the way these teams have played this year, flipping a coin is as good as any other method of picking a winner.
Short of that, stick with experience and the team that hasn’t lost in 28 straight games. Pick Clemson to win by at least a field goal and cover the spread in the Fiesta Bowl.