No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Ohio State: Sugar Bowl preview, picks against the spread

Sam Cooper
·5-min read

Sugar Bowl: No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Ohio State

Time: 8 p.m. (Jan. 1) | TV: ESPN | Line: Clemson -7.5 | Total: 66.5

New Orleans, College Football Playoff semifinal

How these teams got here

Ohio State (6-0): Along with the rest of the Big Ten, Ohio State started its season much later than its College Football Playoff counterparts. The Buckeyes began their run on Oct. 24 by trouncing Nebraska. Wins over Penn State and Rutgers followed before hurdles emerged. OSU didn’t play games against Maryland, Illinois and Michigan due to issues with COVID-19. The Illinois game was due to cases within the OSU program while the other two were issues with the opponent.

Along the way, there were also wins over No. 9 Indiana and Michigan State to get the Buckeyes to 5-0. But the loss of the Michigan game put OSU below the six-game minimum rule to be eligible for the Big Ten title game. That was true, however, until the Big Ten adjusted its rule to pave the way for Ohio State to represent the East division in the conference championship game against Northwestern. That game was a bit of a struggle. OSU fell behind 10-6 at halftime but rallied for a 22-10 win behind a monster performance — 29 carries, 331 yards and two touchdowns — from running back Trey Sermon. The victory gave OSU its fourth straight Big Ten title.

Despite the objections from Dabo Swinney on his coaches poll ballot, Ohio State, with just a 6-0 record, landed at No. 3 in the final CFP rankings, creating a rematch with Clemson.

Clemson (10-1): Clemson lost a regular season game for the first time since 2017, but it still was able to win the ACC and reach the College Football Playoff. The Tigers opened the year by winning seven straight, but ran into a bumpy patch when Trevor Lawrence was sidelined for two games due to COVID-19. In the first game without Lawrence, Clemson fell behind Boston College at halftime but rallied for a 34-28 win.

The second game without Lawrence was a 47-40 double-overtime loss at Notre Dame, a loss that broke a 36-game regular season winning streak for Clemson. Lawrence was back under center the rest of the year, leading blowout wins over Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech before the rematch with the Irish in the ACC title game. This time, things went Clemson’s way. And it wasn’t even close. Clemson won 34-10 to take home its sixth straight conference crown and earn its sixth straight trip to the CFP.

Ohio State running back Trey Sermon (8) scores past Northwestern defensive back JR Pace (5) during the second half of the Big Ten championship NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Ohio State running back Trey Sermon (8) scores past Northwestern defensive back JR Pace (5) during the second half of the Big Ten championship on Dec. 19, 2020, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Players to know

Ohio State QB Justin Fields: Fields, Ohio State’s star quarterback, is going to need to be at the top of his game if the Buckeyes are going to upset Clemson. Fields, who has been nursing a thumb injury, threw for just 114 yards and two interceptions against Northwestern. That won’t work against the Tigers.

Fields, who has thrown for 1,521 yards and 15 touchdowns while completing 72.6% of his throws, will greatly benefit from the return of receiver Chris Olave, who missed the Northwestern game. Olave and Garrett Wilson combined for 74 catches, 1149 yards and 10 touchdowns for OSU this season.

Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence: Lawrence, who will almost certainly be the No. 1 pick in next year’s NFL draft, was the difference against Ohio State last year when he used his legs. It’s safe to say the Buckeyes will be more aware of Lawrence’s athleticism this time around. But Lawrence can beat you in a variety of ways, which is what makes him so good.

Lawrence was the best player on the field in the ACC title game, throwing for 322 yards and two touchdowns while also rushing for 90 yards and a score. In nine games this year, Lawrence has thrown for 2,753 yards, 22 touchdowns and four interceptions while completing 69.2% of his passes. Lawrence also has added 211 yards and seven touchdowns with his legs.

What’s on the line

Ohio State: Ohio State won the national championship in 2014, the first year of the College Football era, but hasn’t won one since. The Buckeyes lost in the semifinals in their two other CFP appearances, and both came against Clemson. Back in 2016, Ohio State got blown out 31-0 in the Fiesta Bowl. Last year, it was a heartbreaking 29-23 loss also in the Fiesta Bowl. OSU jumped out to a 16-0 lead against the Tigers last year, but ended up losing. In 2020, the Buckeyes have a chance for revenge.

Clemson: Trips to the College Football Playoff have become the standard for Clemson. The Tigers have two national championships during Swinney’s tenure and also have lost twice in the title game. That includes last year’s 42-25 loss to LSU. Lawrence won it all as a freshman but struggled in last year’s national championship. Before he moves on to the NFL, Lawrence wants the chance to win another title. To have that chance, he needs to lead Clemson past Ohio State once again.

Picks

Sam Cooper: Clemson -7.5

Nick Bromberg: Clemson -7.5

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