Fiesta Bowl Predictions and Preview
Clemson Tigers vs Ohio State Buckeyes Fiesta Bowl Picks, Odds, and Preview: Direct from Las Vegas, the WagerTalk handicapping crew look at the Vegas odds and give their College Football Bowl Game expert picks and predictions on the Ohio State vs Clemson matchup in the Fiesta Bowl Playoff semifinal on Saturday, December 28, 2019, at 8:00 pm EDT from the Farm Stadium Glendale, in Arizona.
Opening Odds: Ohio State PK (61.5)
Current Odds: Clemson -2 (63.5)
📈 Updated College Football Bowl Game Odds from Vegas
CFP PLAYSTATION FIESTA BOWL
CLEMSON (13-0) vs. OHIO STATE (13-0)
Saturday, December 28 Night at Glendale, Arizona (Grass Field)
Clemson 38 – Ohio State 28—They meet again! Clemson and Ohio State have become familiar postseason foes, battling for the third time in bowl season since 2013. Of course, there was one memorable clash long before, back in the infamous 1978 Gator Bowl, when Woody Hayes would throw a punch at Clemson’s Charlie Bauman in a sideline melee after the latter’s game-saving interception in the final minute of the Tigers’ 17-15 win in what was also Danny Ford’s first game as Clemson coach (following Charley Pell’s move to Florida)…and Woody’s last with his Buckeyes, as he was dismissed the following morning. No punches were thrown in the 2013 Orange Bowl, when a Tajh Boyd-led Tigers team would outscore OSU, 40-35. And then no drama whatsoever in a 31-0 playoff semifinal win at this same Fiesta Bowl three years ago, when Deshaun Watson would ultimately lead Clemson to the national title with a last-second win over Alabama.
Ohio State, Alabama, throw in Oklahoma (each beaten twice), LSU and Notre Dame…all big names, and all victims of Swinney, making for a remarkable bowl run since 2012. Dabo’s only postseason SU losses in that span came twice vs. Alabama in the playoffs, but Swinney has also gotten Nick Saban twice and beaten everyone else he’s faced en route to a 9-1 spread mark his last ten in postseason (the only spread loss coming two years ago in the Sugar Bowl playoff, when QB Kelly Bryant was overmatched vs. the Tide). All reasons why every OSU backer was praying the selection committee would pit the Buckeyes vs. Oklahoma and not Clemson (anyone but the Tigers!) in the semifinal round.
It might be different this season, however, as OSU hardly skipped a beat under first-year HC Ryan Day, who has started his career as a boss very impressively, we’d say, now 16-0 SU including an audition the first three games of last season when Urban Meyer was suspended. But even Meyer never had an edition that hit the accelerator like the 2019 Buckeyes, who dismantled everyone in sight, including an 8-game point spread win streak at midseason. Taking advantage of more relaxed transfer rules, ex-Georgia QB Justin Fields was able to gain immediate eligibility for Day and became the perfect catalyst (and then some) with a staggering 40-1 TDP-int. ratio (plus another 471 YR). Fields has a bit of help, however, as the Bucks gained at least 200 YR in every game, much of that by big-play J.K. Dobbins (1829 YR). Playmakers abound, including on the stop end, where DE Chase Young would emerge as a Heisman finalist. More impressive than all of the big wins, however, might have been coming off the deck (21-7 at half) to finally overtake Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game, the first time the Bucks had to really deal with any adversity this season. Plan B would work fine in a dominant second half.
Where Clemson has held an edge in recent playoffs, however, is the speed throughout both of its platoons. Ohio State did not have to deal with anything like the Tigers’ overall quicks in the Big Ten this season. It’s worth noting that the one recent Buckeye edition that did go all of the way in 2014 featured RB Ezekiel Elliott, whose speed confounded Alabama and Oregon in the playoffs. Dobbins is very good, but not quite owning the freakish speed element that Zeke presented foes five years ago.
Key matchups? We suspect one will be along Clemson’s robust OL, tasked with slowing the mercurial Chase Young and solving shutdown Buckeye corner Jeff Odukah. But the Tigers have plenty of pass-catchers, including homerun Tre Higgins, who gained almost 21 yards per catch and scored 13 TDs on his 52 receptions. And then there’s soph QB Trevor Lawrence (barring injury, next year’s top NFL draft pick), who dissected Bama in the title game last January and closed the season tossing 20 TDP and no picks across the last six games. Slashing RB Travis Etienne (1500 YR) might have been a Heisman finalist himself with a heavier workload, but it wasn’t necessary with Clemson so far ahead in most of its games and scoring 54 ppg in its last six. We suspect Fields (slowed a bit in the Big Ten title game with a leg injury suffered vs. Michigan) might trade scores for a while, but eventually, the Tiger D that recorded 17 picks and allowed barely 50% completions will make enough plays for Clemson to begin providing some separation.
Perhaps the neatest trick played by Swinney has been the ability to keep the fire lit beneath his team, which the selection committee helped by placing the Tigers outside of the top four in its initial rankings. That’s all Dabo needed to sell another “circle the wagons” rant, which has worked in the past. While stray critics continue to cite the lack of challenge in the Tigers’ ACC schedule, we don’t think the scenario is much different than recent years, when Dabo’s Clemson (also 18-4-1 it’s last 23 vs. the line!) has proven conclusively it can beat any foe from any league. We suspect that the trend continues in Glendale. (16-Clemson +2′ 31-0 u59 (CFP-Fiesta Bowl)…SR: Clemson 3-0)