The more competitive of the two semifinals – the Fiesta Bowl (7:00 PM ET, Dec. 31 at University of Phoenix Stadium) – will pit the no. 2 Clemson Tigers (12-1, 6-7 ATS) against the no. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes (11-1, 6-6 ATS). The tilt features two high-scoring offenses, but only one truly shut-down defense. Ohio State held opponents to just 14.2 PPG while playing a stacked Big Ten schedule (plus Oklahoma). Clemson’s defensive stats look good – 18.4 PPG – but you have to remember that they played in the weaker ACC and still gave up 30-plus points four times this year. A couple shutouts and single-digit scores against severely overmatched opponents gild their overall numbers.
By comparison, Ohio State gave up 30-plus points exactly zero times. They surrendered 27 to Michigan, but the Wolverines needed ten points in two OT frames to reach that mark.
In sum, the Buckeye defense is exceptional.
On offense, you have to give the edge to the Tigers. While DeShaun Watson didn’t have the season most were expecting, he still showed flashes of his 2015 self and he always seems to play his best in the biggest moments. Just look at last year’s title game (30 of 47 for 405 yards and four TDs). In the ACC title game against Va. Tech, he passed for 288 yards and three scores, while adding 85 yards and another two majors on the ground.
JT Barrett doesn’t have the same resume as Watson. He’s a solid, experienced QB in his own right, but the Ohio State attack is ground-based. They averaged nearly 260 rushing yards per game (ninth nationally) and piled them up at a 5.5 YPC clip. When Clemson went against a similarly strong ground games, it didn’t go well. Florida State’s Dalvin Cook torched them for 169 yards and four TDs on just 19 carries. In a narrow win over Louisville, Clemson gave up 273 yards on the ground.
Clemson won both those games, but surrendering similar numbers to Ohio State will spell doom, given the Buckeye defense that awaits.
Pick: Ohio State (-2.5)
Photo credit: Adam Glanzman (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0]
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