(CBS Local)- The College Football Playoff has been a carousel of familiar faces since its inception in the 2014-15 season. Only 10 programs have made an appearance in its six years of existence. The two teams meeting in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl as part of the playoff this year? They have some history.
“The last time these two teams played was in a College Football Playoff, Clemson won 31-0,” said SportsLine’s “Wizard of Odds” Kenny White.
The other team in that equation is the #2 Ohio State Buckeyes. Each team looks a lot different since that first meeting back in 2016, but one thing has stayed the same for the Tigers. That’s their head coach, Dabo Swinney, who has been extraordinarily good in bowl games in recent years.
“Dabo Swinney has been extremely successful with that experience. He is 14-4 ATS in his 18 bowl games. But, more importantly, he is 10-1 ATS in his last 11. He has won a national championship. He has built Clemson into a major player in the college football scene. That is the advantage there. Maybe the advantage Ohio State has is a chip on their shoulder,” said White. “I don’t mind Ryan Day, I’m not going to knock him for his lack of experience, but I do upgrade Dabo Swinney’s club because of how successful he has been.”
The experience of the head coaches aside, White is expecting a very good game in this matchup.
“How apropos that it’s the PlayStation game. It seems to me like you’re playing PlayStation, where everybody scores, and it’s just a high-scoring football game,” said White. “Why not? This one should be a high-scoring, very entertaining football game.”
Both offenses are similarly explosive (Clemson 7.2 YPP, OSU 6.8 YPP), and both defenses have stymied opponents (3.7 YPP). The similarities don’t end there. Each offense has an explosive running back, Clemson’s Travis Etienne and Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins, and the wide receiver corps for both is stocked with top talent.
The biggest edge that the Buckeyes likely have is defensive end Chase Young. The Heisman finalist tallied 16.5 sacks and 21 tackles for loss this season, wreaking havoc on opposing offensive lines. Clemson’s front, while solid, lost four starters to the NFL Draft last season, and the replacements haven’t been quite as good at bringing down opposing quarterbacks (to be expected). But, while Young controls the line of scrimmage for the Buckeyes, Clemson has linebacker Isaiah Simmons, who is capable of not only blowing up the run (14.5 TFL) but also adept at pass coverage, with two interceptions and six passes defensed.
On offense, Trevor Lawrence led the Tigers to a championship last season, so he is used to this kind of stage. Justin Fields, while a star in his own right, is a first-year starter, so how he handles this game will be interesting. Also of note, Fields injured his knee against Michigan and is still dealing with the after-effects of a sprained MCL. He will have had time to recover since the Big Ten Championship game, but he still may not be quite 100% when kickoff comes on Saturday. How that factors in remains to be seen. For White, the matchup is almost too close to call. But, in the end, he is leaning towards the Buckeyes.
“It’s a tight game. I think it’s a coin flip to me. I’m going to take the underdog. I’ll take Ohio State plus any points that you’ll give me. I’d like to have three if you can, but if it’s just 2-2.5, I guess I’ll just take that,” said White. “Underdogs plus three or more, blindly cover 55 percent of the time over the last 15 years. It’s a pretty big sample size. I like the points.”
Vegas currently lists the Tigers as 2.5 point favorites, not quite the three that White wants. Kick-off in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl is set for Saturday, December 28th at 8 p.m. EST.