FIESTA BOWL: STATE FARM STADIUM, GLENDALE, ARI
NO. 3 CLEMSON TIGERS VS NO. 2 OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (+2.5, 62.5)
Clemson’s offense is as balanced as they come. Travis Etienne is one of the best running backs in the nation and arguably the best receiving corps outside of Tuscaloosa. But it all starts with quarterback Trevor Lawrence and he’s been on fire. Over his last six games he has thrown for 1,638 with 20 touchdowns and no interceptions. And he does some of his best work in the opening frame.
Lawrence has thrown 1,011 yards with 12 touchdowns and just two interceptions with four more scores on the ground in the first quarter. And his 182.9 passer rating in the first quarter is his best in any quarter this season. That has led to 12.4 first quarter points per game for the Tigers, which was second best only behind UCF and their 12.2 first quarter points away from home was the best in the nation.
While Ohio State was one of the stingier first quarter scoring defenses, it has allowed nearly a touchdown in the first quarter over the last four games. We like Clemson to put up the first points in this one.
Pick: Team to Score First – Clemson (-120)
FIRST HALF BET
As good as Clemson is in the first quarter, Ohio State might be even better in the second. The Buckeyes 17.8 second quarter points per game is not only two points better than the next closest team, it is the highest average points for any quarter in college football. And they, like the Tigers are extremely balanced on offense.
Running back J.K. Dobbins has over 2,000 total yards this season and 22 total touchdowns, but once again this is an offense that flows through a dynamic quarterback. Fields accounted for 50 touchdowns this season while throwing just one pick and does most of his damage in the second quarter. The Ohio State QB has a ridiculous 196.9 passer rating in the second quarter thanks to throwing for 1,266 yards with 16 touchdowns and no in interceptions.
While both teams have elite defenses, Clemson’s has yet to be tested, and hasn’t faced anything comparable to this Ohio State offense. We’re betting this game is tight going into the break.
Pick: Ohio State First Half Spread +1.5 (-110)
While everything on the Buckeyes’ offense flows through Fields, Dobbins is probably their most important player. Any time this season that Fields has looked like he has been struggling or the competition was toughest, Dobbins has stepped up in a big way.
Dobbins destroyed good defenses all year long. He rumbled for 1,021 yards at a clip of 6.3 yards per carry in six games against Wisconsin (twice), Michigan, Penn State, Michigan State and Cincinnati this season. All five of those teams rank in the Top 30 in terms of opponent yards per attempt and four are in the Top 17. His rushing total for this game is high considering the quality of Clemson’s defense, but we’re riding the Over.
Pick: J.K. Dobbins Over 128.5 Rushing Yards
FULL GAME TOTAL
This game is hard to pick because of how evenly matched these teams are on paper, but the total may be even tougher. This a matchup of two top five scoring teams going up against the top two defenses. They combine to score 95.2 points per game, while surrendering just 23.1 at the same time. The number of 62.5 seems pretty on the nose however, as this game feels like it could fall in the 31-28 to 34-31 range.
Both Clemson and Ohio State have explosive offenses with plenty of playmakers at their disposal, ranking fourth and fifth in total yards per play this season.
For Clemson, Etienne who rumbled to another ACC Offensive Player of the Year awards after rushing for 1,500 yards at a ridiculous 8.2 yards per attempt while scoring 19 touchdowns. Meanwhile on the outside the duo of Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross have combined for 21 touchdowns, while Higgins is averaging over 20 yards per reception.
For the Buckeyes, Dobbins can match Etienne blow-for-blow and while they don’t have the same pedigree at wide receiver, Ohio State’s top two pass catching options, Chris Olave and K.J. Hill have also combined to score 21 touchdowns.
Both of these defenses are fantastic, ranking first and second in opponent yards per play, but when the quarterback play is this good, with some many weapons at their disposal, we have to side with the Over.
Pick: Over 62.5
FULL GAME SIDE
Dabo Sweeney has turned Clemson into the program in college football. They have made the College Football Playoff all five years, are going for their third national title in the last four years, and have won 28 consecutive football games. And while they have impressively stomped out the competition laid in front of them ever since nearly getting upset by UNC, they lhave ooked complacent at times early on.
Now, I’ve had the Tigers described to me as the Golden State Warriors in their prime. Not caring about he regular season and just flipping the switch once the playoffs arrive. Well, that’s going to be extremely difficult against a team as talented as the Buckeyes. And while Clemson is likely one of the two most talented teams in the country, they just haven’t played anybody and they remind me a bit of that Florida State team from a few years ago that ran through the ACC before getting demolished in the Rose Bowl.
Now, Clemson won’t get beat up on like that, but in a game that is essentially a coin flip, it holds some weight. Additionally, Ohio State has five wins over Top 21 teams according to the College Football Playoff rankings, Clemson has none.
So, the winner of this game will be who can get more pressure on the opposing quarter back more and force some bad decisions. If Fields’ knee isn’t 100 percent that could be a problem. But if he is able to buy himself some time with his mobility he will be able to make plays downt the field. And while Clemson still has a strong defensive front, they don’t have the disrupters they did from a season ago. Meanwhile, Ohio State has the best defensive player in college football this season in Young.
Pick: Ohio State +2