Photo courtesy of Clemson athletics
New Orleans, LA — For the second time in just over a year, we will see Clemson and Ohio State hash it out.
The teams will again meet in a national semifinal. This time, in the Sugar Bowl in a much-anticipated rematch.
However, when one begins to dive into the nitty-gritty of this rematch, it comes clear that this is not the match-up you were promised.
The weeks leading up to the Sugar Bowl have been nothing short of an absolute whirlwind. We have seen everything from rule changes to coaches throwing shade at one another.
One of the biggest storylines of the College Football Playoff this season has been Ohio State’s resume’ — or lack thereof. Ohio State enters its fourth playoff appearance with a perfect but underwhelming 6-0 record.
Ever since the conference championships were completed, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney has been one of the loudest critics towards the committee. That’s largely due to its decision to put Ohio State in over Texas A&M.
“In my opinion — Texas A&M, Florida, Oklahoma, Cincinnati — they got punished for playing more games,” Swinney said during the Sugar Bowl media day. No matter your fandom, it is easy to see why many fans, coaches, and pundits all have a similar stance on the situation.
Due to their lack of games played, many people believe the Buckeyes should have been left out. Since the creation of the playoff, the committee said its only job is to get the four best teams in the country a shot at the title.
They will look at different metrics and statistics to create an informed decision on whom those four teams are. However, it is rather obvious the committee failed to do that this season. In the eyes of the very criteria the committee look at, it is clear the Buckeyes are not one of the four best teams.
Throughout the season it was made very clear that Texas A&M met the requirements to be given the fourth and final spot in the playoff. The Aggies boast the ninth-most difficult schedule in the country and also have the third-best strength of record. Both categories are weighed heavily by the committee; A&M held a significant edge over Ohio State in said categories.
It is mind-boggling to see that Ohio State was still given the nod, being behind the Aggies in both categories and games played. The Buckeyes have the 70th-ranked strength of schedule. Even their fourth-best strength of record was worse than Texas A&M.
“That’ll be a quick study for us; there’s only six [games],” said Swinney in regard to Ohio State.
Looking into the match-up between these two elites, there are some significant flaws with the Buckeyes. Ohio State not only has played a very short and weak schedule, but it hasn’t been dominant against its competition.
Ohio State has played two ranked teams this season (Northwestern and Indiana). In both games, the Buckeyes struggled mightily against passing attacks of the Hoosiers and Wildcats. In fact, their inability to stop even mediocre quarterback and receiving corps has led to the Buckeyes having the 104th-ranked passing defense in the nation. That weakness for Ohio State could be its biggest downfall if it is to lose on Friday.
Clemson boasts the seventh-best passing attack in the nation. Led by projected No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence, the Tigers could very much throw the ball around the yard. However, the Tigers have made an identity of being a run-first team. With the double threat of Travis Etienne and Lawrence, there is the possibility that Clemson tries to impose its dominance in the trenches.
Ohio State in years past has been rich in talent at the defensive line position. However, this season, the Buckeyes lack a significant pass rush threat as they saw Chase Young go pro. Along with its leader on defense, Ohio State had to also replace its leading rusher from a season ago in J.K. Dobbins.
With all the players Ohio State has had to replace from a year ago, perhaps nothing is more glaring than the lack of depth. No position is more worrisome when it comes to depth than the wide receiver spot.
Ohio State has thrown for more than 1,500 yards this season. More than 1,100 of those have gone to the same four hands — those belonging to Garret Wilson and Chris Olave. Behind those two, the Buckeyes don’t have a single receiver with more than 80 yards receiving on the year. Clemson has seven players with at least 200 yards receiving this season.
Last season’s match-up may have been one of the best games in the history of the playoff. From the Tigers making a 16-point comeback to the Buckeyes coming up a late interception short of a last-minute win, we truly saw two of the absolute best go at it. Unfortunately, it seems this season may not have the same in tow.
Ohio State is a team that lacks the offensive depth and defensive dominance to challenge a full-force Clemson team. Yet anything can happen on any given day. As cliche as it sounds, that’s why we play the game.
If we see the kind of performance we have grown accustomed to from a postseason Clemson team, this one could be no contest. That would certainly be a change.
Clemson holds the 4-0 edge all-time against the Buckeyes. Three of those four contests have been decided by six points or less. Friday’s contest in New Orleans begins at 8 p.m. ET and airs on ESPN.