Clemson-Ohio State Has Feel of Legendary Heavyweight Fight

The Tigers and Buckeyes have been dominant all season en route to 13-0 records.
Author:
Updated:
Original:

They'll do some sort of made-for-TV coin toss Saturday night at midfield before the 8 p.m.-ish kickoff of the Fiesta Bowl between No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Clemson in the College Football Playoff.

It would be more appropriate if Michael Buffer would welcome the teams onto the field with a hearty, "Let's get ready to rumble," and Mills Lane would wink at them before the ball goes in the air and say, "Let's get it on."

Since the moment this matchup popped on screen when ESPN unveiled the Playoff participants, it's had the feel of Ali-Frazier, Leonard-Hearns, Pacquiao-Mayweather or any other ballyhooed championship fight.

Except for one thing.

It's not for the championship.

Except, it sorta is.

"It is the national championship game because if you don't win it, you're not going to go the national championship game," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Thursday. "...At this stage, you can put the names in a hat and throw them around, because anybody can beat anybody. The margin for error is very small."

The winner will advance to play the survivor of No. 1 LSU vs. No. 4 Oklahoma on Jan. 13 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, where Roberto Duran once infamously said, "No mas," as he quit in mid-fight.

There's been and there will be none of that from either OSU (13-0) or Clemson (13-0), the teams with the longest current winning streaks in college football.

The defending national champion Tigers have won 28 straight. The Buckeyes haven't been beaten over a 19-game stretch that dates back to their loss at Purdue in Week 8 of 2018.

Clemson's closest call to brushing with defeat came in Week 5, when its defense denied a late-game two-point try to preserve a 21-20 win at North Carolina.

The Tigers have scored 45 or more points and won by 40 or more points in seven of eight games since, with the exception a 38-3 dusting of South Carolina to end the regular season.

Ohio State's only flirtation with losing was a brief dalliance in the Big Ten title game against Wisconsin, but the Buckeyes roared back from a 21-7 halftime deficit to win, 34-21.

They've won every game by 11 points or more and hope to add Clemson to a growing string of victories over top-15 opponents that includes No. 8 Penn State, No. 13 Michigan and No. 8 Wisconsin.

"Once the Penn State game hit, it's been March Madness for us," OSU coach Ryan Day said, likening the stretch run toward securing a Playoff berth to the NCAA tournament. "You lose one of those games, you're going home."

The star power on both sides is such that Clemson-OSU drew the prime-time kickoff slot and ESPN's top announcing team of Kirk Herbstreit and Chris Fowler, even though LSU is the nation's top-ranked team and features the Heisman Trophy winner in former Buckeye Joe Burrow.

OSU doesn't miss Burrow because it has Georgia transfer Justin Fields, who's 40-to-1 touchdown-to-interception stat line is so good he could throw three picks and no TDs against Clemson, and still set an NCAA single-season record with a better than 10-to-1 ratio between TDs and turnovers.

Clemson doesn't have a transfer QB, it has a quarterback who made the Tigers' incumbent transfer after he led the Tigers to the Playoff in 2017.

Trevor Lawrence supplanted Kelly Bryant as the starter five games into last season and has yet to lose a college game, becoming the first true freshman quarterback to lead his team to a national championship since 1985.

If Lawrence would take Clemson all the way again, he'd be just the fourth quarterback in the last 50 years to start on back-to-back national championship teams, joining Alabama's A.J. McCarron (2011, 2012), and Tommie Frazier (1994, 1995) and Jerry Taggie (1970, 1971) or Nebraska.

For the latest on Ohio State follow Sports Illustrated Buckeye Maven on Facebook and @BuckeyeMaven on Twitter.