Fiesta Bowl — Clemson-Ohio State Might Come Down to Small Edges

By Charles Jay

Undoubtedly, when you put together two undefeated teams in the college football playoff, you’re going to have a very competitive situation, at least on paper. But in this particular instance, as we approach the Fiesta Bowl and our WagerWAR selection in that game, we’ve got something that will play out as being extremely competitive on the field.

The Clemson Tigers, who have not gotten a whole lot of attention throughout the season but are nonetheless the defending national champions, will take the first step in making it two titles in a row as they face-off against the Ohio State Buckeyes in again that begins at 8 PM ET at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, AZ.

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We wonder how many people understand that Clemson has won 28 consecutive games. Somehow that gets lost among teams like LSU and Alabama and tonight’s opponent, Ohio State. But it is altogether possible that Clemson has a better quarterback than any of those who appeared at the Heisman Trophy ceremony. At least that seems to be what the NFL scouts think.

Most of them, if you asked, would be of the opinion that if he was eligible, Trevor Lawrence would be the first pick in the draft, and that might have been the case last season as well, when he was a true freshman. Lawrence was expected to be a Heisman contender this season, but he didn’t put together the statistics that people like Tua or Burrow or Justin Fields posted, but make no mistake about the fact that down the stretch he was as good as any of them, throwing 20 touchdown passes without an interception over his last six games.

Obviously there’s a huge story with Fields, the Georgia transfer who has been a starting quarterback for only one season with the Buckeyes. All he has done within this offensive scheme is complete 67.5% of his passes with 40 touchdowns and only ONE interception. That’s obviously a better ratio than anybody else in college football.

In the Fiesta Bowl odds we use at WagerWAR for this college football playoff semi final, Clemson is a slight favorite:

Clemson Tigers -2.5 (-115)
Ohio State Buckeyes +2.5 (-105)

Over 63 points -110
Under 63 points -110

No team in the nation scored more points per game than the Buckeyes, and a big part of that was the fact that they move the ball with reckless abandon on the ground with a group of backs led by JK Dobbins (1829 yards). And you can’t say that they feasted only on weak sisters, as if you put together opponents like Michigan, Wisconsin (twice) and Penn State in the Big Ten, they have outscored those people by a margin of 156-72. They have also faced pretty decent bowl teams like Florida Atlantic, Cincinnati, Indiana and Michigan State as well. So we don’t have to have that conversation about how they faced inferior opponents.

Actually, more people can say that about Clemson, which had the benefit of a rather soft schedule in the Atlantic Coast Conference, where, because of disappointing seasons on the part of some squads, Wake Forest and Texas A&M were really the best opponents they faced, at least until they scored 62 points against Virginia in the ACC title game. And usually this would mean a lot to us in our handicapping formula, but in this case that’s kind of mitigated by the fact that Clemson went through a rather similar group of opponents last season, and nonetheless rolled past Notre Dame (30-3) and Alabama (44-16).

These squads are 1-2 in the nation in defense, and when we look at that we have to consider the value of Clemson having the top-rated group, which intercepted 17 passes, registered 37 sacks, ranked #1 in pass efficiency defense and allowed 10.6 points a game. I’m saying that because Fields is, to me, the guy more susceptible to “combustion” than is Lawrence, who was exceptional in the two playoff games last season.

Also, I get a feeling that against a very good Ohio State defense that topped the nation in sack rate, the Clemson offensive line is equal to the task. Sophomore Jackson Carman, the left tackle who was the best at his position coming out of high school, may have what it takes to at least prevent Chase Young from dominating things at the line of scrimmage. And let’s not forget that Travis Etienne led the entire nation with a sizzling 8.24 yards per rush attempt.

There’s so much more that can be said, but another consideration has to be the respective coaches. Nothing against OSU’s Ryan Day, who is a perfect 16-0 straight-up as a head coach, but Dabo Swinney has been like a commander navigating his way through the college football playoff. Swinney, who has won two national titles, both in games against Nick Saban and Alabama, has covered nine of his last ten at this level. And Clemson has proven to be a good investment of late, covering 18 of their last 23. As far as we’re concerned, they have the team that is more prepared to know the way home. And as we continue with WagerWAR, the battle for the World WagerSport Ultimate Championship, we’re laying the points.

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(The preceding information has been furnished for news matter only)

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