Fiesta Bowl 2019: Full Preview and Predictions for Clemson vs. Ohio State

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistDecember 9, 2019

Clemson's Travis Etienne shakes off the tackle attempt by Wake Forest's Ja'Corey Johns during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)
Richard Shiro/Associated Press

Two of the three undefeated FBS programs will face off in the Fiesta Bowl for a spot in the College Football Playoff final. 

The Ohio State Buckeyes dropped to No. 2 Sunday, resulting in a meeting with the No. 3 Clemson Tigers.

Three years ago, the two squads met in the same location in the playoff semifinal. Clemson won that matchup on its way to a title. 

Despite being the lower seed, the Tigers opened as the favorite over the Big Ten champion.

               

Fiesta Bowl Information

Date: Saturday, December 28

Start Time: 8 p.m. ET 

Odds (via Caesars): Clemson (-1.5); Over/Under: 63.5

            

Preview

The second-versus-third clash carries countless intriguing individual battles. 

The most interesting matchups feature Clemson's offense versus Ohio State's defense. 

Trevor Lawrence has only been sacked 12 times in his sophomore campaign, but one could argue that total is small because of the weaker schedule he played compared to other top programs. 

Mike McCarn/Associated Press

Chase Young enters with 16.5 sacks of his own, and he displayed a knack for showing up in big games with seven takedowns versus Wisconsin and Penn State. 

The junior is far from the only Buckeyes player who has the potential to get to the Clemson quarterback, as Davon Hamilton, Malik Harrison, Baron Browning and Jashon Cornell all have four or more sacks. 

The Big Ten champion's front seven will also be tasked with containing Travis Etienne, who has hit triple digits in rushing yards in seven of his last eight outings. 

Etienne owns 1,500 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns, and he produced 195 yards and three scores in two playoff matchups a year ago. 

Ohio State is one of seven FBS programs that allow under 100 rushing yards per game, as it ranks seventh with 99.5. 

Even if Etienne is slowed down, Clemson can still hurt its Fiesta Bowl foe through the air with Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross, who caught 21 of the team's 38 passing scores. 

At least one of them will be matched up with Jeff Okudah, who is viewed as the second top-10 pick in the NFL draft on the Buckeyes defense. 

Bleacher Report's Matt Miller had Young going No. 2 and Okudah No. 5 in his most recent mock draft.

In his analysis, Miller said the defensive back "would have been my top-ranked cornerback in both the 2018 and 2019 draft classes." 

Clemson's defense may not have the same name recognition, but it possesses a ton of talent, led by linebacker Isaiah Simmons, who is projected by Miller as a top-10 pick. 

The junior leads the Tigers in sacks and tackles, and he ranks third in passes defended behind K'Von Wallace and Nolan Turner. 

Simmons and the ninth-ranked Clemson rushing defense will be tasked with limiting J.K. Dobbins' production, which is something few teams have been able to do. 

The junior has 540 rushing yards in the last three games, all of which he earned over 30 carries in. 

Michael Conroy/Associated Press

Additionally, the ACC champion must control Justin Fields' rushing threat, as the quarterback has found the end zone 10 times with his legs.

The Georgia transfer also owns 40 passing touchdowns and a single interception, which came October 5 versus Michigan State. 

Chris Olave and K.J. Hill have 11 and 10 receiving touchdowns, respectively, and they will test a secondary that contains 10 players with at least one interception. 

Wallace and Tanner Muse could be key for the Tigers by providing extra coverage against the Buckeyes' stellar receiving group.

                   

Predictions

Clemson (-1.5) and Over 63.5

With so many weapons on each roster, the Fiesta Bowl is expected to turn into a shootout at some point. 

If both teams eclipse 30 points, the over will easily hit, and that could be the best bet since the line is in favor of Clemson by 1.5 points. 

Even though their critics will lament their lack of quality opposition, the Tigers carry more playoff experience than the Buckeyes. 

The majority of Clemson's top contributors played a part in winning the national championship a year ago, while the Buckeyes have not appeared in the playoff since 2016. 

The only difference between the Fiesta Bowl and previous Clemson playoff victories is it likely will not be a blowout. 

All three of the semifinal wins earned by Dabo Swinney's team have been by double digits, including a 31-0 Fiesta Bowl triumph over Ohio State in 2016.

                  

Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90

Statistics obtained from ESPN.com

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