8:00 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Clemson -2, Over/Under: 63
The second half of the National Final will be decided as the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes battle the No. 3 Clemson Tigers in the College Football Playoff National Semifinal from the Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. By all means, this is the marquee matchup of the two Semifinals today, as Ohio State (13-0, 10-0 in Big 10) looks to reach their second National Championship Game since the Playoff came into effect back in 2014. While many individuals feel that the Buckeyes were dealt the short end of the stick in being paired with the reigning National Champions in this Semifinals, there are still many out there that believe that they remain the favorites to win it all for a variety of reasons. By any and all means, this club was utterly dominant in 2019, leading the nation with a prolific 48.7 Points per Game (1st Overall), while relegating the opposition to a mere 12.5 Points per Game (3rd Overall). Indeed, any fear that there would be a hiccup in the transition from Urban Meyer to Ryan Day had been put to rest long ago, for this team breezed through the Big 10 with relative ease, and by the end of the season even knocked off more ranked opposition than No. One Seed, LSU. Littered with playmakers on both sides of the football, this group hosts a laundry lists of NFL Prospects, starting on Offense with Sophomore Quarterback, Justin Fields (67.5%, 2,953 YDS, 9.6 Y/A, 40 TD, 1 INT), who isn’t even eligible to turn pro for another year. In his first season as the starter following a high-profile transfer from Georgia, Fields has been nothing short of impressive in his lone season in Columbus, completing 67.5% of his Passes for 2,953 Yards on 9.6 Yards per Attempt, with a whopping Forty Touchdowns in comparison to just One Interception, which came on a failed Hail Mary no less. Furthermore, he’s factored heavily into the Offense’s rushing attack, racking up another 471 Yards on the ground along with ten more scores, making him one of the most productive Quarterbacks in school history. He overcame a slow start in the Buckeyes’ 34-21 victory over No. 10 Wisconsin in the Big 10 Championship Game, completing 19-of-31 Attempts for 299 Yards and Three Touchdowns, due in large part to a bulky knee that he picked up the previous week in the Regular Season Finale against No. 10 Michigan. Ohio State fell behind early as the Badgers jumped out to an early 14-0 lead, trailing 7-21 heading into Halftime. We’d love to here what Day said to them during Intermission, for the East Division Champions came out like a house on fire in the Second Half, outscoring their western counterparts 27-0 over the final thirty minutes of action. Junior Tailback, J.K. Dobbins (283 CAR, 1,829 YDS, 6.5 Y/C, 20 TD), rushed for 172 Yards and a Touchdown on Thirty-Three Carries, with Senior Receiver, K.J. Hill (51 REC, 569 YDS, 11.2 Y/R, 10 TD), hauling in Seven Receptions for Eighty-Three Yards and a pair of scores, while his Sophomore teammate, Chris Olave (45 REC, 790 YDS, 17.6 Y/R, 11 TD), added another Ninety-Four Yards on Five Catches. After a 2018 campaign that fell well short of expectations, Dobbins worked his ass of in the Offseason to get into the best shape of his career, ranking third in the NCAA in Rushing Yards (1,829) and Sixth Overall in Rushing Touchdowns (20), leading the Big Ten with a very healthy 7.2 Yards per Carry. Defensively, Day’s charges relinquished a season-high 432 Total Yards, including 200 Yards rushing, though the vast majority of that production occurred in the First Half, for Wisconsin struggled to simply move the football after Halftime. All-American Defensive End, Chase Young (44 TKL, 21.0 TFL, 16.5 SK, 7 FF, 3 PD), continued to wreck havoc behind the line of scrimmage, totaling Six Tackles and 1.5 for Loss, along with a pair of Defended Passes. Young, who set the school record for Sacks with 16.5 along with Twenty-One Tackles for Loss was nothing short of a terror off the edge this season for the Buckeyes, becoming that rare defensive payer that was invited to the Heisman Ceremony. And quite frankly, there are few that would argue against the notion that he is in fact the top talent in the country, leading a unit that is stocked with quality talent. And this is where today’s game is likely to be decided, folks, as Ohio State’s star-studded Secondary looks to bottle up one of the most productive Receiving Corps in the country. In terms of NFL potential, Junior Cornerback, Jeffrey Okudah (29 TKL, 1.0 TFL, 1 FF, 3 INT, 7 PD), isn’t far behind Young, and will be counted upon to slow down Clemson’s cadre of productive Receivers, utilizing his physical 6-1, 200 lb frame to disrupt routes and make a play on the football. However, he’s far form the only stout defender on the back end, with Sophomore Cornerback, Shaun Wade (26 TKL, 4.0 TFL, 2.0 SK, 2 FF, 1 INT, 7 PD), Junior, Damon Arnette (34 TKL, 1.0 TFL, 1 FF, 1 INT, 1 TD, 7 PD), and Senior Safety, Jordan Fuller (57 TKL, 1 FR, 2 INT, 4 PD), keeping alive the tradition at DBU. Together, this quartet combined for eight of the team’s Fifteen Interception along with Twenty-Five Defended Passes, routinely shutting down opposing Receivers. We’ll have to wait and see what kind of shape Wade is in tonight, for the Defensive Back has been dealing with an undisclosed injury that has limited him throughout he practices leading up to this matchup with Clemson, though Day has stated that he firmly expects to count up his services in such a pivotal matchup. After bringing home the College Football Playoff’s first National Championship six years ago, the Buckeyes have returned to the Playoff just once, and in that case they were utterly embarrassed in a 31-0 shutout against the Tigers, that served as previous Head Coach, Urban Meyer’s, worst defeat in his illustrious career. As a minor underdog to boot, they’ll be looking for a little payback tonight.
Meanwhile, it’s hard to believe that after rolling through their schedule unblemished that reigning National Champion, Clemson (13-0, 9-0 in ACC) is the Third Seed in this College Football Playoff. Say what you will about the Atlantic Coast Conference, but this is a program that has absolutely shown out over the past four years of this competition, advancing to the National Championship on three occasions, and winning it twice, including last year’s eye-opening 44-16 drubbing of No. 1 Alabama. While the teams ranked ahead of them are certainly deserving of their lofty standing, it still feels a little foolish to proclaim them as better teams than the Tigers, a notion that has since been reflected in the odds in tonight’s affair, with the defending champs opening as slight favorites over the Buckeyes. But hey, it’s easy to forget just how good this team really is when you consider just how underwhelming the ACC was in 2019; Dabo Swinney’s charges played just two teams this season ranked in the AP Poll, and only one of them came in league play, with that being No. 22 Virginia in the ACC Championship Game, an affair that the Tigers won with frightening ease, 62-17. By all respects, the national consciousness may have altogether forgot about them following their relatively understated start to the campaign, taking them for granted once they embarked on conference play. However, they really found their groove once they got into league play, outscoring their opposition by a ridiculous 418-90, allowing twenty or more points on just one occasion and being held below forty points only twice. Seriously, folks, the average gap between them and their opponents was an insane 310.0 Total Yards per Game. And it’s with that said that Virginia stood absolutely zero chance against them in the Conference Championship Game, with the only time the game ever appeared to be close was when the Cavaliers tied the score at 7-7 with 6:22 left in the First Quarter. The Atlantic Division Champs would go on to outscore them 55-10 the rest of the way, totaling a whopping 619 Yards of Offense, including 211 on the ground, and forcing Three Interceptions. This is a case of a team getting stronger as the season progressed, with so many of their number embodying that notion. Junior Tailback, Travis Etienne (182 CAR, 1,500 YDS, 8.2 Y/C, 17 TD), was only slightly less impressive than he was in 2018 in which he rushed for 1,658 Yards on 8.1 Yards per Carry and Twenty-Four Touchdowns, overcoming a slow start to the term to put together a manic final eight games; after surpassing Seventy-Six Yards Rushing just once in the first five outings, the speedster averaged 129.8 Yards the rest of the way, topping 100 Rushing Yards in all but one game over that stretch. Virginia stood little chance of stopping him when they met in early December, as Etienne racked up 114 Yards and a Touchdown on just Fourteen Carries, marking the fifth occasions that he averaged over 8.0 Yards per Rush. And then there’s Sophomore Quarterback, Trevor Lawrence (68.8%, 3,172 YDS, 9.4 Y/A, 34 TD, 8 INT), who burst onto the scene last year in a tremendous Freshman Campaign that concluded with him carving up Alabama’s staunch Defense. Like his teammate in the Backfield, Lawrence got off to a relatively slow start, particularly due to a penchant for tossing Interceptions, totaling eight in his first seven games. He wouldn’t throw another the rest of the way, averaging 273.0 Yards per Game with Twenty Touchdowns over the final six games, including four scores in the drubbing of Virginia. as the Crimson Tide found out the hard way last year, if this kid is afforded time to sit back and scan the field, then very bad things will happen to the Defense, particularly when you consider the talent that he’s throwing to. We spoke earlier about how this game will likely be decided by Ohio State’s success or failure to cover Clemson’s big, rangy Receiving Corps and that’s absolutely true. Junior Receiver, Tee Higgins (52 REC, 1,082 YDS, 20.8 Y/R, 13 TD), and his Sophomore teammate, Justin Ross (55 REC, 742 YDS, 13.5 Y/R, 8 TD), are as good a one-two punch that you’ll find in the country in 2019, with the former routinely making plays with 1,082 Yards on an explosive 20.8 Yards per Reception and Thirteen Touchdowns, while the latter was only slightly- less prolific with742 Yards on 13.5 Yards per Catch and Eight Touchdowns. With both Wideouts standing 6-4, they’re a nightmare for opposing Defensive Backs to contend with in the air on jump balls, let alone the Red Zone where they own a decisive advantage. For evidence of this, just check out how they torched the Cavaliers with Twelve combined Receptions276 Yards and Four Touchdowns. And with all that in mind, somehow Swinney has managed to manipulate the Selection Committee’s decision to make his team the lower-ranked side in this matchup as a rallying call. We’re with you coach, it must have been an oversight on the Committee’s behalf.