Orange Bowl Preview: Clemson-Ohio State

The last of the four major bowls that lead into Monday night’s BCS National Championship Game goes down on Friday with the Orange Bowl in Miami. It’s Clemson and Ohio State that are taking their talents to South Beach in an 8:30 PM ET kickoff on ESPN. The Notebook Nine, the key points to take into the game, are drawn from the personnel matchups, each team’s season arc, the view from Las Vegas and history.

*Ohio State is a three-point favorite, a number that seems surprisingly short given the Buckeyes have only lost one game in two years and Urban Meyer is an established big-game coach. The oddsmakers are expecting a high scoring game, with an Over/Under of 70. Combined with the spread, that would make the final score about 37-34 for Ohio State.

college football bowl history*It’s been a long time for Clemson in terms of winning a major bowl game. They won the Orange Bowl in 1981 to seal a national title, and haven’t won one since. Two years ago, the Tigers were in Miami and got 70 points jammed down their throat by Geno Smith and West Virginia.

*Ohio State and Clemson have only played once, but what a matchup it was. It was the Gator Bowl after the 1978 season and Clemson won the game 17-15. When Tiger nose tackle Charlie Baum came up with an interception that clinched and went out of bounds on the Ohio State sideline, he began to taunt Woody Hayes, the legendary Buckeye head coach. Hayes lost his temper and punched Baum, resulting in the end of a great coaching career.

*The Buckeyes of 2013 do it with a punishing running game. Whether its quarterback Braxton Miller or running back Carlos Hyde, Ohio State piles up huge rushing yardage totals, regularly going into the high 200s, often in the 300s and even the 400s. In the final eight games of the year, including the Big Ten Championship Game loss to Michigan State, Hyde ran for at least 111 yards. Miller has four straight 100-yard games.

*When you run the ball like this, you know there’s horses up front. The left side of the Ohio State line is stacked with NFL prospects, along with center Corey Linsley. Look for the Buckeyes to spend more time running to the left than a candidate in a Democratic presidential primary.

*Miller is a decent passer, but this aspect of the Ohio State offense has often been spotty. Miller was only 8/21 against Michigan State, the loss that cost the Buckeyes a shot at the national title. The consequence is that if you can hold Ohio State’s running game to “only” 250 yards or so, you have the advantage. Florida State’s Jameis Winston may have carved up the Clemson secondary for a 444-yard night, but if Miller has this kind of game in him, we have not seen it yet.

*Clemson’s defense isn’t Michigan State’s, but the Tigers can exploit another Buckeye problem area and that’s in pass coverage. Clemson wideout Sammy Watkins is one of the best in the country, and lesser receivers—notably Wisconsin’s Jared Abbrederis—have had big nights against the Ohio State secondary. Clemson also has a quarterback in Tajh Boyd that can get Watkins the football, and a good #2 target in Martavis Bryant.

*The Tigers can run the ball exceptionally well with Roderick McDowell. The running back went for 956 yards this season, and had good games against SEC competition in both Georgia and South Carolina.

*Clemson’s offensive success is ultimately defined by whether Boyd stays away from mistakes. He played poorly against Florida State, and threw two interceptions in the Tigers’ other loss to South Carolina. Conversely, the quarterback was mistake-free in a win over Georgia. Boyd’s efficiency is also the reason Clemson survived an upset bid from N.C. State on a Thursday night earlier this year.

I’m picking Ohio State to win this one. The Big Ten made a move back to respectability with Michigan State’s Rose Bowl win over Stanford. While the conference is a long way from being back, the early evidence suggests they aren’t overmatched, certainly not against the ACC. Given that, I’m not going against Meyer in a big game. The Buckeyes get the win in a fast-paced game that goes Over the total.

ATS: 13-17
Over/Under: 17-13