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Fiesta Bowl: Ohio State vs Clemson ML and ATS Predictions

Ohio State Buckeyes(11-1) @ Clemson Tigers(12-1)

  • Where: University of Phoenix Stadium. Phoenix, AZ (Neutral Site)
  • When: December 31, 2016 7:00 pm EST
  • Spread: Ohio State -3 (-110) vs Clemson +3 (-110)
  • Moneyline: Ohio State (-150) vs Clemson (+130)
  • Over / Under: Over 59 (-110) vs Under 59 (-110)

In a press conference this week, Clemson Tigers head coach Dabo Sweeney said he likes the current 4-team College Football Playoff format. “I think we’ve got the best of both worlds,” he offered. “Any more teams and we’d water it down.”

Here’s guessing that ACC-love from the CFP committee is part of the reason Sweeney likes the status quo. In the 4-team format, 1 or 2 Power-5 champions must be left out, making playoff selection a conference vs. conference race in addition to team vs. team.

The ACC was written off as the weakest P5 conference a few short years ago, but how times have changed. Florida State won the national championship in 2013-14, and played in the 1st College Football Playoff bracket the following season. Georgia Tech steam-rolled Dak Prescott and Mississippi State in the 2014-15 Orange Bowl. North Carolina and Virginia Tech have earned respect as A-flight programs.

And Clemson has dazzled, cultivating Heisman-candidate Deshaun Watson at QB and earning trips to the CFP in 2015-16 and 16-17. Sweeney’s Tigers lost a 45-40 heart-breaker to Alabama in last year’s final, then rolled to a 12-1 record in 2016 that includes impressive wins over Louisville, Florida State, and Auburn, and a 42-35 ACC Championship triumph over Virginia Tech.

Watson, a dual-threat superstar in Sweeney’s spread-option offense, has had a characteristically prolific junior campaign with almost 4000 yards passing, 43 total touchdowns and 4.1 yards per carry. But the Tiger defense has looked inconsistent, giving bettors pause in both CFP futures wagering and bets placed for this Saturday.

In November, Clemson hosted the Pittsburgh Panthers and gave up almost 7 yards per rush to RB James Connor while rushing for only 50 yards themselves in a bitter 43-42 loss. Watson attempted 70 passes and threw for 500+ yards to no avail. Worse yet, relatively unheralded Pitt senior Nathan Peterman was allowed to pass for 308 yards and 5 touchdowns with 0 interceptions.

The helplessness of the Tiger defense that day (and on October 1st when the Orange blew an 18-point lead to Louisville and nearly lost) accounts for Clemson’s status as a slight odds-underdog against CFP semi-final opponent Ohio State.

Clemson vs. Ohio State PredictionsThe Big Ten has also enjoyed a resurrection of sorts over the last few seasons, with Urban Meyer bringing a national championship to Columbus despite fierce rivalries with resurgent conference opponents like Penn State, Wisconsin, and Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan Wolverines.

OSU survived The Game in controversial fashion, with an enraged Harbaugh blaming officials for a bad 4th-down spot in OT. The Buckeyes also gave up 17 4th-quarter points in a terrible loss to Penn State in October that cost the team a Big Ten Championship Game berth.

So why is Ohio State favored by bookies? It may have to do with the Buckeye defense, which has been remarkable in streaks. In a 62-3 November thrashing of Nebraska (ranked #10 at the time) the Scarlet and Grey ‘D held the Cornhuskers to just over 200 yards of offense, and grabbed 2 interceptions.

Belief in the OSU defense may also be the reason that the O/U for Saturday’s semi-final has gone down since opening at a healthy 61.5 points. View all 2017 Fiesta Bowl betting markets at Bovada.

Clemson – an encouraging injury report

The Tigers will need all hands on deck to stop QB J.T. Barrett’s read-option offense, especially in the front-7. DT Scott Pagano and DE Richard Yeargin have each been upgraded to “probable” for this weekend’s scrum. But junior CB Adrian Baker, who sat out the spring with an ACL tear, has had further injury issues and is still listed questionable for Saturday.

It doesn’t help that Clemson safety Jadar Johnson was quoted criticizing Barrett’s arm strength and accuracy earlier this week. Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes have surely visited a print shop since then, and posted copies of Johnson’s comments all over their bulletin board.

An angry OSU offense could score 45+ on Saturday and blow out the shrinking O/U line. Sweeney was quick to chastise the chirping, but a psychological edge for Ohio State may be set in stone.

Ohio State – live betting opportunity S/U and over/under

MSB calculates a 70% to 80% chance Ohio State will win on Saturday. There are 2 basic ways the game can go – a physical, ball-control battle in which the Buckeyes will almost surely win, and a wild shoot-out in which anything is possible.

Watch the 2 QB’s and offensive lines early in the contest. If Clemson can control pass-rushers such as LB Tyquan Lewis (7.5 sacks in 2016-17) and get Watson into a rhythm early, Barrett and OSU could be forced to open up. That scenario would create solid value for an in-play on the O/U.

Meanwhile, if it’s a tough low-scoring scrum in the 2nd quarter, venture a 1-unit in-play on OSU to win. Barrett is a more durable runner than Watson, and if the game comes down to which team can run more consistently, the Tigers will have little opportunity to out-score Meyer’s maulers.

Buckeyes vs. Tigers money line and point spread picks

Bet on Ohio State ATS (-3 Points) or on the money line (-150 Odds) at Bovada Sportsbook.

As we pointed out in our CFP futures prediction, Clemson simply has not played and beaten a team as physical as OSU in 2016. The only way to stop the Ohio State option game is to sit your DE’s in the weeds as the play develops. If the Tigers try that, Barrett will enjoy a clean pocket and punish the Orange defense with play-action passes. Though no Buckeye receiver has enjoyed a 1000+ yard season in 2016 (all-purpose man Curtis Samuel leads the team with 822 receiving yards), 8 players have caught at least 10 passes in the current campaign.

But what if it’s a shoot-out? Barrett has thrown only 5 interceptions this year. That’s less picks thrown than sophomore OSU safety Malik Hooker has gobbled up by himself in 2016-17.

Look for the Buckeyes to win the line of scrimmage, win the turnover battle, and advance to the CFP final to play Alabama or Washington for the crown.

Kurt BoyerThis article was written by Kurt Boyer

A freelance sportswriter from Missouri, Kurt has covered court, gridiron, rink and ring for 10+ years. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.

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