WHERE: Sun Life Stadium - Miami Gardens, Fla. (72,230)
WHEN: Friday, January 3 (8:30 p.m.)
SPREAD: Ohio State by 3
TV: ESPN (Joe Tessitore, Matt Millen, Maria Taylor)
OHIO STATE RUN GAME VS. CLEMSON FRONT SEVEN
If you haven't figured it out by now, Ohio State runs the ball well, very well. Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde are one dangerous duo, one that Clemson hasn't really seen the likes of since, well, Connor Shaw and Mike Davis.
The Tigers kept Davis in check, Shaw, not so much. So keeping Miller in check could be quite the chore.
Carlos Hyde, who has 1,413 yards and 14 scores this season, has over 100 yards rushing in each of his last eight games. (Getty Images)
Carlos Hyde, who has 1,413 yards and 14 scores this season, has over 100 yards rushing in each of his last eight games.
There is a chance, albeit a small one, that Clemson keeps him below the century-mark. Heisman Trophy candidate Andre Williams had just 70 yards against Clemson. And Davis picked up just 22 in the season finale.
As a team, Clemson is 49th in the country against the run, allowing 152.6 yards per game. Ohio State is the fourth-best run team, picking up 317.5 yards per contest.
The scary part for Clemson is that they'll have more to deal with than just Miller and Hyde. Backup running back Jordan Hall has 81 carries for 543 yards and seven touchdowns. Dontre Wilson has 28 rushes for 231 yards and five touchdowns. His 8.1 yards per carry could present some problems out on the perimeter of the Clemson defense.
The Tigers' defensive line will have to contend with an offensive line that averages well over 300 pounds. Center Corey Linsley is the smallest at 6-3, 297. The second smallest Buckeye offensive lineman is left tackle Jack Mewhort, who checks in at 6-6, 308.
Across the board, the Ohio State offensive line has combined for 144 starts. Tight ends Jeff Heuermann and Nick Vannett, the top two tight ends, have combined to make 21 starts. That's a solid core of experienced blockers that clear the way for Miller, Hyde & Co.
Corey Crawford and Vic Beasley will have to be disciplined on Friday night and try to keep Miller contained. If not, he could do plenty of improvisational running like Shaw did. And Miller's much more explosive than the South Carolina quarterback.
Naturally, the linebackers, particularly Stephone Anthony and Spencer Shuey, will have to also be at their best, and that's easier said than done.
Keep an eye on Jayron Kearse. He could have a big part in monitoring Miller throughout the night.
This could be the most critical matchup when it comes to determining who wins this game. It's hard to see Ohio State not running the ball really well on Friday.
OHIO STATE AIR ATTACK VS. CLEMSON SECONDARY/PASS RUSH
Miller is clearly at his best when he's running with the ball. And he's probably more of a thrower than he is a passer. Miller completed 146 of 231 passes with 22 touchdowns and five interceptions. His 157.94 efficiency rating of 157.94 is one of the best in the country. But that's probably a product of the system he's playing in right now.
Mike Braxton Miller completed 146 of 231 passes with 22 touchdowns and five interceptions this season. (Getty Images)
Wide receiver Corey Brown is the top Ohio State pass catcher with 55 receptions for 655 yards and 10 touchdowns. Fellow wide receiver Devin Smith has 42 for 655 yards and eight scores. Heuerman has 25 for 409 and three scores.
Wilson is worth mentioning again here, because he'll do a lot of pre-snap movement and motions. He'll cause problems as a pass catcher on the perimeter. He's got 21 catches for 215 yards and two touchdowns.
As a team, Ohio State is 91st in the country when it comes to passing. They're averaging just a shade below 210 yards per game. Nationally, Clemson is 15th against the pass, allowing 197.8 yards per game.
Clemson's numbers could be slightly skewed. They feasted a trio of run-happy teams: Syracuse, Georgia Tech and The Citadel. Nonetheless, Brent Venables has gotten solid play out of Bashaud Breeland at cornerback. So has Kearse, who's starting in place of Travis Blanks at free safety. There have been several occasions when he has played really well this season.
The Tigers' pass rush could be negated by the lack of opportunities they'll get to rush Miller. Nonetheless, Beasley could add one or two more to his 12 sack total of the season.
This matchup is a close one, too close call. It could go in either direction.
CLEMSON AIR ATTACK VS. OHIO STATE SECONDARY/PASS RUSH
It's not a good look when New Mexico State, Eastern Washington and New Mexico are better against the pass than you are. Those three teams combined to win seven games this season -- yet they all featured better pass defenses than the Buckeyes.
Clemson QB Tajh Boyd chose the Tigers over Ohio State and Oregon five years ago. (Roy Philpott)
However, the number itself can't be ignored -- it tells a significant part of the story.
To close out the season, Indiana, Michigan and Michigan State combined to pass for over 1,000 yards on Ohio State.
And, now, the Buckeyes are going to be without two of their top defenders. Cornerback Bradley Roby is not playing because of an injury. Defensive end Noah Spence, the team's leader in sacks [7.5], is suspended for a violation of Big 10 rules.
But Spence isn't the only threat when it comes to rushing the quarterback. Ryan Shazier, the starting strong-side linebacker is tied second on the team in sacks with defensive tackle Michael Bennett [seven]. Freshman end Joey Bosa has 6.5. So there are some other options to get in Boyd's face.
The biggest issue for Ohio State is what's behind them. Chatter has circulated that the Buckeyes will play a few younger players, including freshman safety Vonn Bell, a former five-star recruit from Georgia, who will work at the nickel back. Armani Reeves, Roby's replacement, and Doran Grant are slated to be the starters at cornerback on Friday.
Freshman Jamal Marcus, who's recorded two sacks this season, will be one of the primary replacements for Spence. Steve Miller will also be in the mix at the VIPER position.
It's our expectation [along with pretty much everyone else] that Clemson's wide receivers, specifically Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant, will have their way through the Ohio State defensive backfield. The duo has combined for over 2,000 yards receiving and 15 touchdowns.
And, of course, keep an eye on the other starter, Adam Humphries, and the top reserve, freshman Mike Williams. All four of the Clemson wide receivers are candidates for 100-yard games.
About the only significant potential loss for Clemson is Stanton Seckinger. The redshirt sophomore tight end sprained his ankle on Tuesday and is listed as questionable for the game. His 19 catches are first among the team's tight ends. While Jordan Leggett and Sam Cooper are viable options, the potential for losing Seckinger could be a bit of a concern.
Boyd, of course, will be important to the whole operation for Clemson. As coach speakish as it might sound, just how well he can protect the football could go a long way in determining who wins this game. If he plays well, the Tigers could win their first BCS bowl. If he doesn't, it could be another long night in Sun Life Stadium for Clemson.
We're anticipating a big night for Boyd, one of the 300-yard and multiple touchdown variety.
CLEMSON RUN GAME VS. OHIO STATE FRONT SEVEN
So you want to run the ball against Ohio State? Good luck with that.
Senior RB Roderick McDowell, the team's leading rusher with 956 yards and five touchdowns, could find running lanes hard to come by Friday night. (Getty Images)
It wasn't until the Big 10 title game when Michigan State running back Jeremy Langford had 24 carries for 128 yards and a touchdown.
The 13 Ohio State opponents combined to rush for eight touchdowns this season.
Tajh Boyd, Roderick McDowell and whoever else runs the ball for Clemson will have their work cut out for them. As a team, the Tigers are 62nd in the country in rushing, average 172.7 yards per game.
McDowell, the team's leading rusher, has 956 yards and five touchdowns. Boyd is second with 284 yards but leads the way with nine scores on the ground.
Zac Brooks and C.J. Davidson spent the latter half of the season dealing with injuries, but a full month between games should have allowed for them to get healed up in time for the Orange Bowl. Don't be surprised if Davidson gets some looks in short-yardage and goal line situations. He appeared ready to take on that kind of a role before he went down with a knee injury.
Working in Clemson's favor: Curtis Grant, the Buckeyes', starting middle linebacker and fifth-leading tackler, has been limited in practice with a knee injury, but is expected to play.
While Clemson may not have a 100-yard rusher on Friday, any little bit will help. The Tigers will need to keep from getting too one dimensional.
There is potential for Clemson to make plays in the punt return game against Ohio State. The Buckeyes are 121st in the country, giving up an average of 16.4 yards per return. But here's the kicker: They've only allowed seven returns. Only Auburn has allowed fewer punt returns.
Will Chandler Catanzaro be the hero again tonight? (Roy Philpott)
The two teams are about the same when it comes to covering kickoffs. Ohio State is 11th in the country while Clemson is 25th. The Tigers have struggled to find consistency here all season. But, as we've written close to 12 times, Watkins' presence back deep is still a threat.
Wilson is a dangerous option for the Buckeyes. He's first on the team with 498 yards and 20 returns. Hall isn't bad either. He leads the way with 27.2 yards per return.
The two place kickers are consistent. Drew Basil is 9 of 10, his lone miss coming from 49 yards. Forty-five is his longest make of the season. Chandler Catanzaro has missed one of his 14 attempts for Clemson this season. The lone miss was a 25-yarder against Boston College.
This matchup is too close to call.
PREDICTION: Ohio State 41 Clemson 38