Both Notre Dame and Ohio State insist they’re thrilled to be here, over and over, player after player, coach after coach. And it’s the Fiesta Bowl, one of college football’s premier contests, so… yeah. Except, of course, that this year, it’s meaningless. The country’s No. 7 (Ohio State) and No. 8 (Notre Dame) teams aren’t playing for anything, having been nudged just outside the four-team field after being ranked third and fourth, respectively, as recently as Nov. 17. So they’ll have to excuse the questioning, just as those of you exhausted from a New Year’s Eve of football will have to stomach the fact that this matchup might produce a better game than one or even both of the semifinals.
Points of Interest:
1.) Ohio State’s defensive line will be depleted going into Friday’s game, with its two starting tackles set to miss the contest. Adolphus Washington was suspended after being arrested for soliciting a prostitute during a sting, and Tommy Schutt has a broken foot. To compensate, Michael Hill, Donovan Munger, Joel Hale and Tracy Sprinkle should see increased roles, and All-American defensive end Joey Bosa may move inside to help, as well.
2.) C.J. Prosise should finally be healthy for the first time in more than a month. The Notre Dame running back hasn’t played since leaving the team’s Nov. 21 win over Boston College with an ankle injury, but on Wednesday, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said that Prosise looks more like himself than he had since the injury. Adding in their 1,000-yard rusher would certainly give the Irish a boost on offense, especially with Prosise’s receiving skills, which his replacement, Josh Adams, has lacked.
3.) Both quarterbacks have had a somewhat meandering path to today. Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer started last spring third on the Irish depth chart and only got his starting job after Everett Golson transferred and Malik Zaire broke his leg. Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett entered the season in a competition with Cardale Jones, and he at various times split time under center, served as Jones’s backup and played the role of red-zone quarterback. He was also cited for a DUI midseason.
Burning Question:Who will win the battle of the likely first-round picks?
Notre Dame left tackle Ronnie Stanley will likely be going up against Bosa, and both are projected as high-first round picks. Sure, Bosa will likely move around on the Buckeyes’ line, meaning he won’t face Stanley on every play, but it will be interesting to see if he can create pressure on the left side of the line, which Kizer has only rarely faced this season.
That has to be Prosise. If he’s truly back at even 90% of what he was this season, he’ll add a wrinkle to Notre Dame’s offense that it lacked in its season-ending loss to Stanford.
In their one loss this season, to Michigan State, the Buckeyes finished with just 86 rushing yards. (They averaged 242 on the season.) Stuffing the run may just be Notre Dame’s best path to victory.
Line play will be without a doubt the most fascinating aspect of Friday’s game, as three likely top-15 picks in next spring’s draft—Bosa, Stanley and Ohio State offensive tackle Taylor Decker—play on the lines in question. And with two relatively inexperienced quarterbacks, protection will be key, especially in the case of Kizer, who’s had a comfortable cushion from pass rushers often all season.