No. 2 Ohio State (13-0) meets No. 3 Clemson (13-0) in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl on Saturday. Game time is scheduled for 8 p.m. at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. The game will be nationally televised on ESPN.
Ohio State led the nation in scoring offense (48.7) behind Heisman finalist Justin Fields and tied for third in scoring defense (12.5) behind Heisman finalist Chase Young. Ryan Day is 16-0 as a head coach and has freshened up the Urban Meyer model in Columbus. The Buckeyes are back in the Playoff for the first time since a 31-0 loss to Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl in 2016.
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Clemson, the defending national champions, owns a 28-game win streak under Dabo Swinney. The Tigers ranked fourth in scoring offense (46.5) and first in scoring defense (10.6) and have a talented roster around quarterback Trevor Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne.
There will be a surplus of first-round NFL talent on the field when these teams hook up. With that in mind, here’s everything you need for the CFP semifinal matchup:
Clemson vs. Ohio State odds
Spread: Clemson -2
Point total: 63
Moneyline: Clemson -129, Ohio State +109
Clemson is a two-point favorite according to odds at Sports Insider. The line opened at -1.
Clemson vs. Ohio State all-time series
The Tigers have won all three matchups against Ohio State, and none of those experiences has been good for the Buckeyes. Swinney led Clemson wins against Meyer-led Ohio State in the 2014 Orange Bowl (40-35) and 2016 Fiesta Bowl (31-0). The first meeting between these teams, of course, saw Buckeyes coach Woody Hayes fired after punching Clemson’s Charlie Bauman in a 17-15 loss in the 1978 Gator Bowl.
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Three trends to know
— The Buckeyes were favored in every game this season and finished 9-4 against the spread. Ohio State, however, was 1-3 against the spread in its final four games.
— The Tigers also were favored in every game this season and finished 10-3 against the spread. Clemson ended the season with four straight covers.
— Clemson is 7-1 against the spread in bowl games in the Playoff era. Ohio State is 4-2 against the spread in bowl games in the stretch with a 5-0 against-the-spread record as an underdog since 2014.
Three things to watch
As if both teams didn’t already have identical scoring trends, each team committed 14 turnovers this season. Ohio State lost 13 fumbles and Fields threw just one interception. Lawrence threw eight of Clemson’s 10 interceptions, and the Tigers lost four fumbles. Can Ohio State’s loaded secondary — led by SN All-American Jeff Okudah — come up with a few picks? Or will Clemson’s defense, led by SN All-American linebacker Isaiah Simmons, force a few fumbles? A plus-one or -two margin in the turnover battle could be the difference.
Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins had 100 carries for 540 yards and seven touchdowns in the season-ending stretch against Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin. The offense revolves around the junior running back. Etienne finished with 1,500 yards and 17 touchdowns on just 182 carries. The Buckeyes (2.82) and Tigers (2.96) allow fewer than three yards per carry. Which team gets on track?
The Buckeyes had just 215 yards and finished 3 of 14 on third down in the last loss to the Tigers. That prompted Meyer to renovate the offensive staff and hire Day, who now is the head coach. Fields should have more success throwing the ball down field, but Clemson has allowed the fewest first downs in the FBS. Will the Buckeyes be able to move the ball at will?
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Stat that matters
Has Clemson been tested? Not in the first quarter, where the Tigers have outscored opponents 170-17. How will Clemson respond if Ohio State — which outscored opponents 136-38 in the first quarter — gets off to a fast start? That first quarter will set the tone for what should be another Playoff classic in the vein of the Alabama-Ohio State game in 2014.
Clemson vs. Ohio State prediction
SN’s latest mock draft has a total of five players from Ohio State and Clemson listed in the first round, and that’s not including Lawrence, the presumed No. 1 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, or Fields, who could challenge for that position. Which of those first-round players make the game-changing plays? Young or Okudah? Simmons, Etienne or Tee Higgins? This is a game where the big-time players must step up, and Clemson has been on this stage more times. It will be tighter than the last meeting, but Lawrence will make enough plays over the top to lead the Tigers back to the CFP championship game.
Clemson 34, Ohio State 30.
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