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Fiesta Bowl 2019: Final Odds and Prediction for Clemson vs. Ohio State

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistDecember 28, 2019

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - DECEMBER 07: J.K. Dobbins #02 of the Ohio State Buckeyes runs the ball in the Big Ten Championship game against the Wisconsin Badgers at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 07, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
Justin Casterline/Getty Images

The 2019 is the kind of matchup the College Football Playoff was created for. Both Clemson and Ohio State have defeated all-comers and now have just one more mountain to climb to earn the right to play for the national championship. 

Looking at the season both teams have had to this point, there's one thing they have in common: dominance. 

The Buckeyes turned in one of their most complete seasons, even by the program's lofty standards. They ran roughshod over the entirety of the Big 10. Their closest game all season was a 28-17 win over Penn State. Outside of that, Ryan Day's team has obliterated anyone who has crossed their paths. 

Dabo Swinney's side had a closer call. The Tigers infamously only beat Mack Brown and North Carolina by a point back in September. Since then they've been back to their ascendant ways. They trail only the Buckeyes in margin of victory, winning their games by an average of 35.2 points per game. 

Of course, many of those wins have come in a diluted ACC, but that hasn't stopped the Tigers from being a small favorite, according to the latest odds from Caesars

        

Fiesta Bowl Information

Date: Saturday, December 28

Start Time: 8 p.m. ET 

TV: ESPN 

Odds (via Caesars): Clemson (-2); over/under: 62

       

When Clemson Has the Ball

Much has been made this year of Chase Young, so it stands to reason he'll be a focal point in this game. 

Young's first part of the season was phenomenal. He put together one of the best seasons ever for a defensive lineman en route to a trip to New York as a Heisman finalist, but much has been made over his personal lack of production down the stretch. 

Statistically, Young has gone silent. He did not register a tackle against Michigan. He hasn't had a sack in back-to-back games after registering at least a half-sack in each game he played in this season.

That belies the impact he's had drawing double- and triple-teams for the Bucks, though. In those last two games, the Buckeyes had no problem causing havoc without Young directly contributing. The D-line racked up four sacks and 17 tackles for a loss in those two games. 

That will be important, as Clemson's offensive line is one of the best in the nation. The Tigers are sixth in the nation in sacks allowed and 20th in tackles for loss allowed, giving up just 13 and 59, respectively, on the season. 

The battle on the perimeter will also be special. The Buckeyes boast one of the best cornerbacks in the nation in Jeff Okudah, and he'll get his fair share of time covering Pro Football Focus' No. 1 wide receiver in college football this season:

PFF College @PFF_College

After an incredible ACC Championship Game – Tee Higgins is the highest-graded receiver in all of college football! https://t.co/bQaaaRQpqB

Trevor Lawrence got off to a shaky start this season, but he's reunited with Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross to once again form an explosive passing attack for the Tigers. The two wideouts have combined for 107 catches, 1,824 yards and 21 touchdowns. 

But most importantly for Clemson will be what it can get out of the running game. The Tigers are the most efficient running team in the country at 6.46 yards per carry as a team. Ohio State is the sixth-stingiest run defense in the country, giving up just 2.82 yards per carry on the season. 

Clemson wants to control the line of scrimmage with its running game and set up favorable situations to hit Higgins and Ross downfield. If the Tigers can't get those favorable situations, they run the risk of being one-dimensional against a team that you don't want to be one-dimensional against. 

        

When Ohio State Has the Ball

The biggest question heading into the game for Ohio State is the health of quarterback Justin Fields' knee. 

The star quarterback said that his knee feels about "80-85 percent," per the Associated Press (via ESPN). The sophomore's surgical accuracy and ability to pick apart defenses without turning the ball over has been key for Ohio State all season. He has an astounding 40 touchdowns to one interception this season. 

Fields played with the injured knee in the Big Ten Championship Game against Wisconsin. He was a little less mobile than usual—only rushing for one yard on 12 attempts and taking five sacks. But Ohio State still scored 34 points after scoring 38 with a healthy Fields against the Badgers in October. 

Trevor Lawrence is going to be called upon to make some big-time throws. Fields will be called upon to do the same. If Fields isn't fully healthy, it could be the difference in a game between two teams that seem to be as close as can be on paper. 

Fortunately for Fields, he will have one of the most productive backs in the country to carry the team. In the biggest spots of the season, the Buckeyes have leaned heavily on J.K. Dobbins, and this game won't be any different. 

In the three big games to end the season against Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin, Dobbins had 36, 31 and 33 carries, respectively. That's after not reaching the 30-carry threshold all year. 

Clemson's defense is stout against the run. It ranks eighth in the nation at 2.97 yards allowed per carry, but the team has given up some good games to the better running backs on its schedule, including 129 yards to freshman Javian Hawkins against Louisville. 

The Tigers also had some shutdown performances against some talented running backs. They held Florida State's Cam Akers to just 34 yards on nine carries. Boston College's A.J. Dillon had 76 yards on 19 carries. 

What they can do to limit Dobbins and force Fields to beat them at less than 100 percent will be key in getting the win. 

         

Prediction

There's a reason the spread to this game is so close. These are two of the best teams in the nation, and there aren't many advantages to be found on paper. Sure, Clemson's ACC schedule wasn't the best, and their close call against North Carolina doesn't look great. 

In the era of the College Football Playoff and constant debate about seeding and who deserves to be in, it's easy to conflate resume flaws with team flaws. 

Clemson is a team that had a close call and a weak conference schedule. It's also still the program that has been to the mountaintop and played in three of the last four championship games. 

The Tigers haven't had the opportunity to prove themselves against top-flight competition all season. They will at the Fiesta Bowl, and they should come up big. 

Clemson 28, Ohio State 24