Just one more win stands between (11-1) Ohio State Buckeyes and (12-1) Clemson Tigers’ shot at playing in the national championship as the duo face off in the Fiesta Bowl in the second half of a New Year’s Eve doubleheader (7pm ET Saturday on ESPN).
As with our Peach Bowl preview, here USAbetting analyzes the angles for this Fiesta Bowl matchup and ultimately offers our betting predictions and picks.
Ohio State’s Road to the Playoff
Ohio State is probably the first team in playoff history to advance to the final four without recording a victory in its conference championship game. Not only did the Buckeyes not win the Big 10 Championship, they didn’t even have a chance to play in it.
As expected, the 2014 NCAA FBS champion Buckeyes rolled through the first half of their schedule, easily dispatching Bowling Green (by 67 points), Tulsa (by 45) and Rutgers (by 58 in a shut out). Even against #14 ranked Oklahoma, Ohio State made quick work of their opponents. Then the heart of the conference schedule began and Ohio State needed overtime to defeat #8 Wisconsin.
Following the Wisconsin game, Ohio State’s tough road trip took them through Happy Valley where a familiar opponent awaited. But for everything this rivalry had been, recently Penn State hadn’t played its part. Far from competitive in the Big 10, the Nittany Lions had served as OSU’s doormat over the past few seasons. That wasn’t the case in 2016.
Ohio State had its opportunities and it was a late turnover that ultimately helped Penn State get the game-winning field goal. It was the only loss the Buckeyes would suffer but the problem was, it was the loss that put PSU in the Big 10 championship, which they won, and Ohio State out in the cold. At one point it seemed that this would mean Penn State would go to the playoff but it wasn’t to be. Ohio State finished their season with the statement win that despite not having a conference championship to play for, put them over the top as they defeated #3 Michigan in double overtime.
If there is one thing this preview has learned about the Buckeyes this year it is that they are incredibly gritty. In the toughest conference in football, Ohio State emerged almost blemish-free and that’s a testament to how good this team has been all year. Against Clemson, that should serve them well. Whether it is enough to make me side with them when it comes to my closing betting predictions and picks is another matter.
Clemson’s Road to the Playoff
Clemson has been on the precipice of national championship glory the entire time Deshaun Watson (pictured) has been their signal caller. This year, Watson’s last, has been no different as once again the road through the ACC went through the Tigers.
The toughest test for Clemson early on came when the team played #3 Louisville, who had previously been undefeated and were led by future Heisman winner, Lamar Jackson. Like something out of a video game, Jackson was putting up insane numbers, scoring touchdowns on the ground and through the air. He looked nearly unstoppable, that is, until his Cardinals took on the Tigers in early October.
The Clemson defense held Louisville’s Superman to just 295 yards, one touchdown and one interception. To that point in the season, only Florida State had played Jackson better. But to be fair, Jackson only threw the ball 20 times against the Seminoles. He threw 44 times against the Tigers.
Clemson won this game and later defeated #12 Florida State in another close contest. They looked primed to get through the rest of their schedule without defeat but after shutting out Syracuse 54-0, Clemson lost a stunner to Pitt in another high scoring affair. Fortunately for Clemson however, one loss was never going to keep them from the playoff, especially with an ACC Championship win over #23 Virginia Tech to end their regular season.
Our Preview’s Ohio State Buckeyes vs Clemson Tigers, Fiesta Bowl Picks & Betting Predictions
The craziest thing about this matchup at University of Phoenix Stadium is that both teams are eerily similar. Where one has weaknesses or strengths, the other has the exact same one.
These teams started their season looking unstoppable, unbeatable, winning all of their games with absolute ease. Both also spent that other half of their season merely limping through, losing uncharacteristically and just barely grabbing wins in games that shouldn’t have been as close as they were. Both are excellent at recruiting. Both have only recorded one loss in each of the last two years.
The one previous matchup between the two in the Dabo Swinney/Urban Meyer coaching eras, took place at the 2014 Orange Bowl, a game that featured four lead changes in the second half alone and that was decided by a mere five points.
A football game is rarely so simple as to say that the best team gets the win, because that’s only on paper. It is the team that plays the best and that limits the mistakes that ends up on top. Given these two are so similar, it could come down to the mere thought of whichever team shows up full strength and ready to play. Because that could be all it takes and the tiniest advantage could be what determines which team goes home and which team advances to the title game.
There are reasons for this preview to lean towards either team in this matchup, but my pick is going to be Clemson. Neither team may be able to defeat Alabama assuming the Crimson Tide don’t lose in a huge upset, but the Tigers have the best chance. They’ve done this dance before and Watson knows what it takes. This could be his year and he’s already done so much to prove why he belonged in the Heisman conversation. Lean on Watson to be the slight difference maker in this one as Clemson tops the three point spread favored to Ohio State.
So this preview’s Fiesta Bowl betting predictions and picks are:
- Have a bet on the spread on Clemson +3pts @ -125 betting odds with Bovada. It is +2.5pts for -110 with 5Dimes, -113 with BetOnline and -115 with Bookmaker.
- Looking at the sportsbooks’ spread for the total points, take the over 58.5pts with BetOnline @ -113, given the way both teams have really brought the offense this season. It is over 59pts @ -105 with Bovada and -110 with Bookmaker.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.