Yesterday, I did a thing – I think Alabama will beat Washington. So does most of the country, so I guess I’m not that special. However, the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl draws a lot of excitement. The Ohio State Buckeyes, winners of the first edition of the College Football Playoff, are playing against the Clemson Tigers, last season’s runner-up (and a school that waitlisted me, but I’m not bitter). It pits dual-threat quarterbacks, in JT Barrett and Deshaun Watson. It pits great coaches, in Urban Meyer and Dabo Swinney. It’s a game that only has a spread of 3 points (in which Clemson is the underdog).
Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio State lost a lot of its team from last season. I’d argue the biggest loss was Ezekiel Elliot, for the reason that he could’ve played another season in Columbus. However, Mike Weber Jr. has played phenomenal this year, with just short of 1,100 yards and 9 touchdowns. Weber Jr., along with Curtis Samuel (700ish yards, 8 touchdowns) make for a formidable backfield duo. You also can’t forget about Barrett, who himself has 847 yards on the ground with 9 touchdowns. I’m not concerned about rushing however. I’m curious how the Bucks will do throwing the ball. Samuel is also Ohio State’s leading receiver, with 65 catches and around 820 yards (7 touchdowns, too). After that? Noah Brown is solid, as he’s contributed 7 touchdowns, but he only has 30 catches. And he’s the second leading receiver on this Buckeye team. I think Barrett can throw the ball effectively – he has completed about 62% of his passes this year, and he has only thrown 5 touchdowns. But will he be able to make the big throws down the stretch?
Defensively, the Buckeyes lost a ton from last year’s team – Joey Bosa, Eli Apple, and Von Bell are just a few names. In no way are they at a disadvantage, however. Raekwon McMillan just might be the most complete linebacker in college football. Malik Hooker has been a ball hawk from the safety position, totaling 6 picks (3 for touchdowns) and 4 passes defensed. They can still get to the quarterback, thanks to Tyquan Lewis and Nick Bosa. While OSU has played the 9th toughest schedule in the country, they haven’t played a team quite like Clemson yet.
All talk about Clemson football is going to begin and end with Watson. The junior has lead an offense that hasn’t quite looked as dynamic as last season’s was, but nonetheless is still formidable. #4 has completed about 68% of his passes for just short of 4,000 yards and 37 touchdowns. He rushed for 6 more scores, too. The knock on Watson is that he threw 15 picks, which is the most by far out of the quarterbacks in this tournament. He’s benefitted greatly from the return of wideout Mike Williams, who had 84 catches for 1,171 yards and 10 scores. Williams, along with Artavis Scott, Ray-Ray McLoud, Jordan Leggett and Hunter Renfrow, bring experience and chemistry to the table. Out of the backfield, Wayne Gallman proved to be as reliable as ever, breaking the 1,000-yard mark with 15 scores.
It’s scary that some say Clemson regressed defensively and they still have the 8th best unit in the country. Never mind college football; Ben Boulware is the scariest dude in college sports. He led the team with 105 tackles and 3 forced fumbles. Carlos Watkins played the role of Shaq Lawson, by getting to the quarterback for 8.5 sacks. These are just two names though – Clemson’s defense is really good at finishing their tackles regardless of their position. In passing defense, Jadar Johnson has also been one of the best at the free safety position this year. He’s picked off 5 passes and defended 7 more.
I’m interested to see how this one shakes out. I think Clemson is the better team on paper. I also think Clemson poses the greatest threat to take the throne away from Alabama. However, matchup-wise, Ohio State has the best talent to take down the Tigers. Clemson gave up a lot of yards on the ground against elite rushing teams (Louisville, Florida State, Pittsburgh). While they only lost one of those games, I think the three-headed monster of Barrett, Weber Jr. and Samuel are a huge threat to Clemson. Ohio State has done really well with time of possession this season. If the Buckeyes get out to a lead by halftime, they can really control the game.
Ohio State beats Clemson 28-24 in an instant classic.
Cover photo from Bleacher Report.