Clemson vs. Ohio State Fiesta Bowl Expert Picks and Predictions with Betting Odds
by Trevor Whenham - 12/21/2016
Clemson Tigers vs. Ohio State Buckeyes, Saturday Dec. 31, 7 p.m. ET
This is the 15th and final bowl preview I have written in the last week, and it is the game I am most looking forward to. It's at the most stupid time possible - apparently the NCAA hates having viewers - but it's not like I have a life anyway, so I'll be watching. These are two very talented and fairly-evenly-matched teams. Both do some things very well, and both have some flaws that make them potentially vulnerable. Part of the excitement also comes from the last bowl meeting between these two. In the 2013 Orange Bowl Tajh Boyd threw for five TDs and Sammy Watkins had an amazing game as the Tigers beat the Buckeyes 40-35 in the best game to watch of that bowl season. If this game is half as good as that one then we are truly in for a treat.
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Fiesta Bowl Betting Storylines
One of the many things that are interestingly similar between these teams is that both lost a game they had no business losing. Ohio State lost at Penn State in their seventh game as 17.5-point underdogs. They were far from dominant the next week as well, narrowly beating Northwestern. But then their next two wins - identical 62-3 massacres of Nebraska and Maryland - were their best games of the season. Then they tried hard to lose to Michigan State before beating Michigan in one of the hardest-fought and most-entertaining games any team played all year. So, the loss was a setback, and it ultimately cost them the division, but they shook it off and got back to work.
Clemson's regrettable loss was in their 10th game, losing 43-42 at home to Pitt as 21.5-point favorites. It's hard to really judge how well they bounced back because their next two opponents, Wake Forest and South Carolina, were really bad. They won handily but would have had to work really hard not to.
So, what have we learned? Both teams had lapses of concentration at very bad times, but in neither case was it a clear sign of greater issues. Both lapses also came against teams that were easy to overlook - remember, even though Penn State won the Big Ten, back then they were 4-2 and had lost to Michigan by 39. Neither team will be overlooking the other here, so we don't need to worry about another flat performance.
Of more concern from the Ohio State perspective is what offense will show up. Against Nebraska, Maryland, Oklahoma and others they were all but unstoppable. Against Michigan they were solid against a stout defense. In the games against Michigan State, Northwestern, and Wisconsin, though, they never looked to be comfortable, and J.T. Barrett was far from dominant. They have huge tools - Curtis Samuel is as dangerous as any player in the country, and Mike Weber has been solid at running back - but they just haven't been consistent enough to truly trust them in this spot. Now, Clemson and Deshaun Watson haven't been entirely consistent, either. They have looked like a different team since that Pitt loss, though, and seem to have regained some of the focus that was missing before. Watson is a much easier QB to trust than Barrett, too. Both defenses are very good, and though I would give Ohio State an edge it would be very slight. Simply, then, the offense that is better here is the team that is going to live to play another day.
Fiesta Bowl Odds and Betting Trends
The game opened with Ohio State favored by the key number of three. It has since flirted with 3.5, but is back to a field goal. The Buckeyes have the edge in number of bets but not by a massive margin. We could again see it edge up slightly, but we are unlikely to see a big swing without major breaking news. The total opened at 61.5 and has since fallen slightly to 59.5.
The Buckeyes are 4-0 ATS in their last four nonconference games and 5-0 ATS in their last five played at a neutral site. They are 6-2 ATS in their last eight bowl games but just 2-6 ATS in their last eight overall. The Tigers are 5-0 ATS in their last five bowl games and 7-1 ATS in their last eight neutral-site games. They are, however, 2-5 ATS in their last seven overall.
Clemson vs. Ohio State Fiesta Bowl Expert Picks & Predictions
Man, this is a tough game to call. I like Watson better than Barrett. I like Ohio State's defensive talent better, though. Ultimately, the decision comes down to two things. One, I would take Urban Meyer every day over Dabo Swinney when it comes to crunch time. Two, Ohio State's wins over Oklahoma and especially Michigan impress me more than anything that Clemson has to their credit this year. It's a close game, and I have gone back and forth on it, but ultimately Ohio State is the choice at this price.
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