Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Ohio State Buckeyes, Friday Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET
Both of these teams would rather be playing in a much more prestigious game. Until the last two weeks of the regular season, they both had a decent chance of getting there. If Ohio State hadn't lost to Michigan State in their second to last game then it would have been them and not Michigan State that played Iowa in a winner-take-all battle for a playoff spot. Notre Dame's dreams lasted a week longer - they were likely to make the playoff until they lost to Stanford in their finale. Now all they can do is play for pride. It should be a good game here in the Fiesta Bowl, but not nearly as good as it could be if these teams both had more on the line.
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Fiesta Bowl Betting Storylines
You can't look at these teams without talking about strength of schedule. There is a disparity here. Notre Dame has, as usual, played a serious schedule. Their two losses both came on the road against top-ranked Clemson and sixth-seeded Stanford. No shame in either loss. They also beat USC, Navy and Texas, and they beat Temple and Pitt on the road. It's an issue that they lost to their two best opponents, but it still is a strong schedule.
Ohio State simply wasn't tested in the same way. They were beaten by Michigan State and won big at Michigan. When your second best-win is against 7-5 Penn State, and when you lost to your one elite opponent, it isn't a wonder that people have been critical of your schedule. So we have one team that played a lot of good teams and lost to two of them and another that played only two and lost one. What does it all mean? That's for you to figure out. All I'll say, though, is that it would be easy to give it too much attention - and it seems like the media is doing just that. After all, the large majority of the important players on this Ohio State team certainly played some tough games last year - like the two they won in the playoff.
While I'm personally not too panicked by the schedule that Ohio State has played, I have no shortage of concerns about their focus. As we saw after the Michigan State game that there isn't the chemistry on this team that would be ideal. They bounced back well the next week at Michigan, but the team's focus on self over team has again become evident as several of the core players have made their NFL futures much more of a focus than bowl preparations. This has the feel of a team that is looking towards next year. It doesn't help that they have again lost a key assistant to a head coaching job, and Greg Schiano is poised to be defensive coordinator. Or that star DT Adolphus Washington has found legal trouble and won't be playing in the game. I would not at all be surprised if the team came out and played less than their optimal game.
Neither team has seen their QB situation play out as planned or hoped for. Ohio State never really has settled on their guy, though it is J.T. Barrett who will, barring injury, start this game. He has probably been the better all-around QB, but the position, which was seen as an almost embarrassing strength heading into the season, has been a massive letdown. Malik Zaire was expected to have a huge season under center for the Irish, but he was lost for the season in just the second game. DeShone Kizer was forced into action before he seemed to be ready. Given that, it's surprising that he comes into this game off of the best season of all the quarterbacks. Considering it was thought by many that the biggest issue would be deciding which of the Ohio State QBs got the Heisman, this is remarkable.
Fiesta Bowl Odds and Betting Trends
The game opened with Ohio State favored by 6.5 points. It has mostly remained stable at that level, though some books have started to try the key number of seven. About 60 percent of all bets have been on the Buckeyes, so the line movement is as expected - it doesn't seem like sharps have made a strong opinion known yet. The total sits at 55.5.
The Buckeyes are 4-0 ATS in their last four neutral-site games. Notre Dame is 7-1 ATS in their last eight against teams with winning records but just 1-4-1 ATS in their last six games against the Big Ten. Urban Meyer is an impressive 9-2 ATS in bowl games - far better than the 2-6 ATS lifetime mark of Brian Kelly.
Notre Dame vs. Ohio State Fiesta Bowl Expert Picks & Predictions
Notre Dame is the deeper and more talented team, and I don't think that it's particularly close. That being said, I'll take Notre Dame and the points here. I just don't trust the Buckeyes coming into this one - too many questions. Notre Dame played Stanford and Clemson both very tight despite the loss and, at the least, could keep it close here too. The Irish are the play.
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