Five Questions About Clemson Entering Fiesta Bowl vs. OSU
The debate that raged throughout college football over the final two weekends of the season centered on whether LSU or Ohio State deserved the No. 1 ranking from the College Football Playoff Committee.
Beyond that designation being honorary, it carried the weight of a presumed inside lane to the national championship because it would spare the recipient what many commentators and analysts said repeatedly:
"You don't want to have to play Clemson."
OK, if no one wanted to play them, then why aren't the Tigers No. 1 entering their Dec. 28 Playoff semifinal against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl?
We'll start there with five questions about Dabo Swinney's defending College Football Playoff champions as they enter a rematch of the 2016 Playoff semifinal with OSU that Clemson won, 31-0.
Why did Clemson drop from its preseason No. 1 ranking?
The Tigers' first pre-season No. 1 ranking traced to their 44-16 win over Alabama for a second national title in three seasons and the return of most of the offensive headliners from that dominant performance.
Quarterback Trevor Lawrence, running back Travis Etienne and receivers Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross all had to come back to school because none were junior-eligibles for the NFL draft.
Sure, Clemson lost its entire defensive line to the pros, but Swinney's recruiting presumably would fill those holes and the Tigers would seamlessly move forward and continue to dominate the ACC.
Except they didn't.
A one-point win at home over North Carolina in Week 5 came down to defending a two-point conversion attempt in the final minute.
That dropped Clemson to No. 2 behind Alabama. It fell to No. 3 in mid-October and dropped to No. 4 a week later as LSU and Ohio State continued to win impressively.
Is quarterback Trevor Lawrence over his early-season interception issues?
Lawrence threw five touchdown passes and five interceptions in his first three games. He's since thrown for 29 scores with only three picks.
He enters the Fiesta Bowl having completed at least 70% of his throws in each of his last six games after doing that only once in Clemson's first seven games.
How does Clemson's offense compare to Ohio State's?
The numbers suggest it's a tossup between which of these two offenses is the most powerful, explosive and multi-faceted.
Clemson ranks fourth nationally in scoring at 46.5 points per game, a few spots behind Ohio State, which leads the nation at 48.7 points per game.
Clemson has the country’s No. 3 total offense at 548 yards per-game.
Ohio State is No. 5 at 531.
It's safe to say both could have averaged more if they weren't so dominant that the starters for each team sat out many fourth quarters during the regular season.
Incidentally, LSU and Oklahoma, which meet in the other Playoff semifinal, rank first and second, respectively, in Division I total offense.
Is Clemson's defense capable of stopping Ohio State?
Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence and Christian Watkins -- the defensive line that terrorized OSU in the 2016 Fiesta, are all playing on Sundays now.
That doesn't mean Clemson is without a capable defense, however.
The Tigers allow even fewer points than the Buckeyes.
Clemson is No. 1 in the nation in fewest points allowed at 10.5 per-game. OSU is tied with Georgia for the No. 2 spot at 12.5 per-game.
OSU is also second in yards allowed per-game at 247.6, with Clemson slightly ahead in the top spot at 244.7 per-game.
The Tigers' schedule is supposedly softer than OSU's, so the Buckeyes may have an edge that doesn't show up in the numbers.
Do these teams have as much in common as it sounds?
Yes, right down to the fact that both head coaches ascended to their jobs after being on staff in other roles.
Swinney was Clemson's wide receivers coach in 2008 when head coach Tommy Bowden resigned. Swinney was elevated to interim head coach and named head coach just before the Tigers' bowl game.
Day came to OSU in 2017 as quarterbacks coach. He moved up to co-offensive coordinator the next year, and before that began he earned interim head coach status during Urban Meyer's three-game suspension for misstatements at the Big Ten Kickoff luncheon about former receivers coach Zach Smith.
Now that Alabama failed to make the Playoff for the first time in its six-year history, Clemson is tied with Bama for the most appearances, given this is its fifth straight trip.
OSU won the inaugural Playoff title in 2014. Alabama and Clemson have alternated with the last four.
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