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Sugar Bowl: Ohio State vs. Clemson odds, preview, and pick

Profile Picture: James Scully

December 28th, 2020

For the second consecutive season, No. 2 Clemson and No. 3 Ohio State will meet in the College Football Playoff semifinal. Last year was a thriller, with Clemson overcoming a halftime deficit to prevail 29-23, and the rematch should feature plenty of offense.

Clemson averages 44.5 points per game, third-best in the FBS. Ohio State ranks fifth with a 42.5-point average.

Sat, January 2 2021, 1:00 AM

Clemson Tigers






O 67

Ohio State Buckeyes






U 67

Dabo Swinney, who has won a pair of national championships and 140 games since taking over as Clemson’s interim coach in 2008, provided additional motivation by ranking Ohio State 11th on his Coaches Poll ballot.

Ohio Sate. is ranked third in the Coaches and CFB polls with a 6-0 record. Clemson ranks second after going 10-1.

There is no love lost between these proud programs.

Ohio State has never beaten Clemson in four attempts, and the first meeting was the last game for legendary coach Woody Hayes, who punched a Clemson player near the conclusion of the 1978 Gator Bowl.

Clemson's offense is nearly unstoppable

After contracting COVID-19 in late October, Trevor Lawrence was sidelined for a pair of games. He didn’t miss a beat when returning in Week 13, throwing for more than 900 yards and five touchdowns as Clemson won their final three games by a combined 131-37 margin.

The Tigers lost to Notre Dame in Week 10, their first regular season setback since 2017, but Clemson exacted a measure of revenge when dominating the ACC Championship Game by a 34-10 margin. They compiled 541 total yards.

With Lawrence, running back Travis Etienne and receiver Cornell Powell, Clemson can score points in bunches.

The defense is not as formidable as recent seasons. The first seven ACC opponents averaged nearly 23 points per game against the Tigers, but Clemson improved late in the season, recording 12 sacks and eight turnovers over the last three contests.

A tale of two seasons

It’s been a tale of two seasons for Ohio State. They started fast, averaging 46.3 points while routing the first three opponents, but COVID-19 issues threatened to ruin their season. Three of the next five scheduled games were canceled, and the Buckeyes sustained significant personnel losses.

Justin Fields experienced the roller coaster. In the first three games, he threw 11 touchdowns and no interceptions, recording an 86% completion rate. With a short-handed roster and week-to-week uncertainty, Fields completed only 58% of his passes, while tossing four touchdowns and five interceptions, over the final three games.

Fields hurt his thumb in the Big Ten Championship, but the two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year is expected to be 100% for the semifinal.

Three starting offensive linemen returned for the Big Ten Championship, and Ohio State dominated a good Northwestern run defense, with Trey Sermon gaining 331 of their 399 rushing yards. The Buckeyes started slowly, but they shut out Northwestern in the second half of the 12-point win.

Buckeyes are nearly back at full strength

After having more than 20 players unavailable for the final two games, head coach Ryan Day said Ohio State will get "a bunch" of players back. Linebacker Baron Browning and punter Drue Chrisman are among those who could make a significant contribution against Clemson.

With a young and often-depleted secondary, the Buckeyes struggled against the pass late in the season. But they were outstanding against the run all season, sixth overall allowing only 96.7 yards per game.

Underestimate Ohio State at your own peril

Ohio State has not faced this level of disrespect in decades – they are receiving 7.5 points from Clemson.

The Buckeyes are 7-2 as underdogs against the spread since 2012.

Fields was dealing with a sore knee last year, and his interception from Clemson’s three-yard line in the final seconds seized defeat from the jaws of victory. He has looked forward to another opportunity ever since.

Ohio State logged 196 rushing yards on Clemson’s top-ranked defense last year, and the Buckeyes feature a better rushing attack this season. They are stout on the offensive and defensive lines.

Will Clemson cover the spread against Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl?

Clemson’s passing game will have success, but the Tigers face a potential letdown scenario after such a big win over Notre Dame 11 days earlier. Everybody expects them to beat Ohio State, and players must avoid looking ahead to Alabama 10 days later.

Run defense is the calling card for Ohio State, and Etienne was held under 100 rushing yards in seven of 10 ACC games, gaining only 28 yards on 18 carries in the first matchup against Notre Dame. Opponents were able to give Clemson fits when limiting their ground game.

Look for a motivated Ohio State to show up with their best performance of the season. Clemson probably will have too much firepower in the end, but it won’t be a cakewalk.

I’m grabbing the points with Ohio State!

NCAAF pick: Ohio State +7.5