Science fiction excels at conjuring all manners of apocalyptic clashes, from Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster to prequels and sequels of every sort.
College football deals in reality, but its Playoff semifinal between No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Clemson will delve into the realm where imagination, athleticism and competition collide in a cataclysmic match-up that could tilt the outcome of the Dec. 28 Fiesta Bowl.
What transpires when OSU defensive end Chase Young, whose dreadlocks and dominance of enemy opponents have christened him with the nickname Predator, meets Clemson offensive tackle Jackson Carman, whose uncommon agility at 6'6" and 328 pounds make him a unicorn at his position, will solve a significant mystery in this seemingly-even pairing of 13-0 unbeatens.
The Buckeyes' and Clemson's defensive numbers are so similar—within a few yards per game and within less than three points allowed per-game—that whichever unit can best affect the opposing quarterback could determine which team advances to the Jan. 13 national championship game.
Young has 16.5 of Ohio State's 51 sacks this season.
Both numbers lead the nation, but it's Young's that are the more eye-opening because he finished 2.5 sacks ahead of everyone else despite missing two games against woebegone Rutgers and Maryland because of an NCAA violation for an illegal loan from a friend.
Had he played in those games, it's possible Young would have the six sacks he needs to become Ohio State's career leader in one less season than Mike Vrabel, now head coach of Tennessee Titans, needed to register 36 sacks in his career.
"He's a monster off the edge, man," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said of Young. "He's a fast, twitchy dude that can get to the quarterback."
Young hasn't had a sack in OSU's last two games, however, as both Michigan and Wisconsin devoted extra attention to him.
Whether Clemson does that, or needs to do that, will depend on Carman, who's a story within a story in this game.
Not only is he the impediment to Young reaching Tigers quarterback Trevor Lawrence, Carman is also one of the few in-state recruiting battles Urban Meyer lost in his seven seasons at Ohio State.
A five-star prospect out of suburban Cincinnati, Carman chose Clemson over OSU in the Class of 2018 and has become not just a reliable starter, but also a dominant one this season.
He's allowed zero sacks and only 10 quarterback pressures all season, which he felt pulling him toward Ohio State as both teams piled up wins and marched toward the Playoff.
“I feel like it's fated," Carman said before arriving in Arizona with the Tigers on Sunday. "I just had a feeling whenever I came that we were definitely going to play them at some time.
“I have a lot of friends on the team, a lot of people who mean a lot to me, so I'm excited to be able to see them and compete against them. I'm just trying to look at it as the next game I have to prepare for and not be too emotional.”
Carman and Young met briefly a few times during Carman's recruitment when Young was a freshman.
They may see a lot of each other on Saturday, or OSU may move Young around to try finding a friendlier path to Lawrence.
Clemson allowed an average of only one sack per game this season, so that might not be easy against a line that, other than Carman, starts four seniors—all of whom also started last year when the Tigers waylaid Notre Dame and Alabama en route to the national championship.
"The good news for us is I have Tremayne Anchrum, who's played a little bit of football," Swinney said of his right tackle. "He's been starting since he was a true freshman. He's been in four Playoffs. He's been in a couple of national championship games and he's won two of them.
"He's played against some elite players. So, the moment's not going to be too big for him, but it's going to be a great matchup. There's no doubt about it.
And the same thing is true over on the other side with Jackson Carman. Jackson has had a great year for us. He's as good as we've ever had here and he's excited."
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