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Staff Predictions: Ohio State's College Football Playoff Semifinal Vs. Clemson

The BSB staff – and a guest picker – took a stab at predicting the outcome of Ohio State's College Football Playoff semifinal matchup with Clemson.

James Grega

I have been going back and forth on who I think will win this game since the matchup was announced Dec. 4.

The case for Clemson can be made pretty easily. The Tigers boast one of, if not the most explosive offense in the country, led by quarterback Deshaun Watson. The Tigers also have three NFL caliber pass catchers at their disposal in Mike Williams, Artavis Scott and tight end Jordan Leggett.

Defensively, Clemson is no slouch either. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables won the Broyles Award for best assistant coach in the country this season, leading the Tigers to a top-10 finish nationally in total defense.

But then there is the case to be made for Ohio State. The Buckeyes have come away with wins over three top-10 teams this season, two of which came on the road. In addition, you can never count out a team with experience at the quarterback position, and OSU has that in J.T. Barrett.

And while the Orange Bowl loss to the Tigers was three long years ago, I have to imagine that loss is in the back of Urban Meyer’s mind, and he is not one to take a big misstep lightly.

So with all of that, where do we go from here? I truly could see this came going either way, with one big turnover making all the difference. With Ohio State’s secondary and Watson’s gunslinger mentality, I think that turnover could happen in the Buckeyes’ favor.

SCORE: Ohio State 35, Clemson 31

Ryan McGlade

Ohio State’s offensive line will be critical in this College Football Playoff semifinal matchup against Clemson. It gave up six sacks to Penn State, which is currently tied for 11th in the country with 39 this season, and eight to a Michigan team that is fourth nationally with 44 sacks this year.

The Buckeyes, of course, lost at PSU and won against Michigan in double overtime. So they have been on both sides of the outcome when J.T. Barrett has been brought down frequently.

I’m not so sure Ohio State will be on the winning side vs. Clemson, however, if the Tigers get to Barrett routinely. 

The Tigers are second in the country with 46 sacks on the season. Florida State has taken down the opposing quarterbacks 47 times to lead the nation.

Plain and simple, Ohio State must protect Barrett. The Buckeyes can obviously turn to their running game to alleviate some of the pressure put on him. But if the Clemson defense disrupts Barrett enough to where the OSU passing game becomes sporadic, then the Buckeyes may fall victim to becoming predictable and one-dimensional with the rush offense.

I understand the passing game hasn’t been prolific all season, but it must have some kind of presence in order for OSU to be successful against one of the country’s top defenses.

Taking all of this into account, Barrett often finds a way to will his team to victory. He’ll do it again on New Year’s Eve.

SCORE: Ohio State 31, Clemson 30

Tim Moody

Ohio State’s offense time and again has proved it can’t execute at a high level in bad weather. Incredibly, that means my prediction for the outcome of this game would change if Ohio State and Clemson were playing in Columbus, but there’s something about playing indoors when it comes to Urban Meyer’s offense.

J.T. Barrett is a very good quarterback, but mostly because of his ability to run the ball and lead the offense – he’s a mediocre passer most of the time, especially in bad weather. Last year, he was great in the Fiesta Bowl, though, and the Ohio State offense generally fired on all cylinders in the climate-controlled environment. Remember the postseason run in 2014-15? All three of those games were indoors as well.

Normally, I wouldn’t base my prediction off of where the game is being played, but I have these two teams as pretty equal overall. Ohio State has the better back end on defense, but Clemson has a better front seven (by a bit). On offense, Clemson has more weapons, but Ohio State is a better power team, and Curtis Samuel is going to be the best playmaker on the field.

So, if both teams are pretty equal, something has to be the deciding factor. For me, Ohio State genuinely plays better inside. I see that trend continuing against Clemson in a very, very close game that won’t be decided until late in the process.

Overtime, anyone?

SCORE: Ohio State 31, Clemson 24 

Jeff Svoboda

This game, on the surface, feels a little bit like when Ohio State went to Miami to take on Clemson in the Orange Bowl to conclude the 2013 season.

The Buckeyes head to the desert with one unit of the ball – it was the defense in ’13, the offense now – not quite playing up to its lofty standards. Meanwhile, Clemson enters the game with a rock-solid squad led by a veteran quarterback – Tajh Boyd three years ago, Deshaun Watson now.

So does that mean we’ll see a similar result? Of course not, but it does mean Clemson is quite a challenge. The Tigers are not only 12-1 and the champions of the ACC, they boast one of the top five teams in the nation in nearly each of the advanced stats used by college football observers to measure squads.

The good news for the Buckeyes, though, is they are above the Tigers in each of those ratings. Simply put, this is about as solid a matchup you can create for a College Football Playoff semifinal.

So who wins? For some reason, I’m leaning toward the Buckeyes. There’s clearly not much difference between the teams, and I’m thinking with nearly a month to prepare, Urban Meyer will be able to pump some more effectiveness into his passing offense.

That, to me, is the key to the game. If Meyer’s team can move it just enough through the air – something the stats say should be an edge for Clemson – OSU can ride its strong running game and defense to the win. If not, Clemson will have the edge.

SCORE: Ohio State 30, Clemson 24 

Blake Williams

After a wild season we’re right where we predicted we would be. Three of the teams ranked in the top four of the first Associated Press poll of the regular season (Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State) find themselves in the College Football Playoff. But that doesn’t make the Buckeyes matchup with the Tigers any easier to predict.

Ohio State made it through a difficult slate with just one blemish, but Clemson figures to be the best team Urban Meyer and company have faced this season and Deshaun Watson is certainly the most talented quarterback the Silver Bullets have seen. The Clemson junior has had a penchant for throwing interceptions this season with 15 in 13 games, but Watson has played his best against the best competition and I figure he’ll be at his best against the Buckeyes. Still, I think the ball-hawking Ohio State secondary will come up with one pick in this one.

The other side of the ball is where Ohio State should be the most concerned. The Clemson defensive line is loaded with pros. The Tigers have the second-most sacks in the country this season (46) and I expect their front line to give Ohio State’s front five problems and make it difficult for J.T. Barrett to get in a rhythm.

The Buckeyes are currently favored by three in this one, but I certainly wouldn’t allocate any capital on this game. I think these two teams are exceedingly talented and both are very well coached, though I give the nod to Ohio State in that regard. In the end, I think Clemson’s best is just a hair better than Ohio State’s. I expect both teams to play at their highest level and the Tigers to escape in an all-time classic.

SCORE: Clemson 31, Ohio State 27

Guest Picker: Dan Hope, Anderson (S.C.) Independent Mail

This game is likely to be decided by whether Clemson’s offense performs up to its ability.

The Tigers should win this game if their offense is sharp. Clemson has a clear advantage over Ohio State in terms of its ability to pass the ball downfield, and that could make the difference on the scoreboard, especially if Clemson can control the pace of the game.

Clemson could lose control of the game, however, if it turns the ball over. With 24 giveaways this season, turnovers have been the Tigers’ Achilles heel. They can’t afford to give the ball away against Ohio State, which has been as good as any team in the country at taking advantage of opponents’ mistakes.

I don’t expect Clemson’s defense to have too much trouble in this game. Ohio State’s Curtis Samuel is dangerous, but given more than three weeks to prepare, Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables should find a way to limit his impact, forcing other Buckeyes’ playmakers to step up.

Clemson’s special teams, particularly its kickoff coverage, is much better than it was in last year’s playoff. So that area of the game might not present many opportunities for the Buckeyes to make up points.

Ohio State’s defense should make enough plays to keep this game close, and winning the turnover margin could be enough to win the game. Ultimately, though, I think the limitations of the Buckeyes’ passing offense will keep them from winning this game.

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SCORE: Clemson 31, Ohio State 24

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