The nightcap of Friday’s College Football Playoff doubleheader will be the Sugar Bowl between the no. 2 Clemson Tigers facing the no. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes in a rematch of last year’s national semi-final. Inside the Superdome in New Orleans, the Tigers are 7.5-point favorites with the over/under listed at 66.5 points.
Ohio State’s inclusion in the CFP is not without some controversy. The Buckeyes only played six games this season. Of course, they won all of them, although they had to sweat it out against both Indiana and Northwestern, as Ohio State didn’t exactly steamroll the rest of the Big Ten the way they did in 2019.
The Tigers suffered a rare regular-season loss when they fell to Notre Dame on the road. In fairness, the Tigers were missing a few key players for that game, most notably Trevor Lawrence. Clemson rattled off three straight blowouts of Pitt, Virginia Tech, and Notre Dame to finish the season 10-1 and reach the CFP for the sixth consecutive season after getting Lawrence back.
Oddly enough, Lawrence may not be Clemson’s most important player in this game. Running back Travis Etienne might hold the key for the Tigers. He’s had an up and down season, failing to live up to the preseason Heisman hype. To be fair, he still amassed 882 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. However, he came alive in the ACC title game with 124 yards on just ten carries. If he can get loose early, Lawrence and the Clemson passing attack will become even more dangerous.
Unlike last season, the Buckeyes had some off-days defensively. This year’s Ohio State team lacks the elite talent and first-round talent that last year’s defense possessed. They were vulnerable at times against Indiana, who was their most challenging opponent during the regular season. They’ll enter the Sugar Bowl with a lot to prove on that side of the ball.
For Ohio State, this game could fall on the shoulders of quarterback Justin Fields. He threw two interceptions against Clemson last season after throwing just one during the regular season. This year, he’s thrown five picks in six games. Against a stout Northwestern defense in the Big Ten Championship Game, Fields threw two interceptions and completed only 12 of his 27 passes, needing Trey Sermon and the running game to bail him out. The Buckeyes will need him to shake off that performance and rise to the occasion against Clemson.
The Tigers proved in their rematch with Notre Dame that they’re capable of being an elite defensive team. They also slowed down Virginia Tech’s potent rushing attack late in the season, so they’ll be prepared if the Buckeyes try to establish Sermon early and take the heat off Fields. The Tigers are playing aggressive and confident defense with six sacks against Notre Dame in the ACC Championship Game.
Same Old Script
A year ago, Clemson escaped with a win over Ohio State despite the Buckeyes out-playing them for large stretches. This time around, the Tigers are undoubtedly the more balanced and more complete team. Outside of Fields playing out-of-his-mind good in this game, this is Clemson’s game to lose. Bet on the Tigers to win and cover against Ohio State.