The last 12 months have looked unlike anything that any reasonable person would have predicted. Perhaps the Buckeyes could best reference the last four months in particular by the lack of lining left in their nasal cavity from daily CoVID-19 testing. And yet 370 days after Clemson safety Nolan Turner intercepted Justin Fields in the end zone and ripped out the hearts of Buckeye fans across the world, Ohio State and Clemson find themselves back on the exact same stage, with the same stakes at play.
Today's winner will play for a national championship game on Jan. 11. Instead of against LSU (as was the case last year), today's winner gets either Alabama or Notre Dame.
But for the Buckeyes, it's about so much more than just winning this one game.
It's about exorcising demons from their very recent past. This program doesn't have many of those ... perhaps that's why they seem to be more present in our vernacular and in our thoughts. It's well-known at this point that Ohio State has never beaten the Clemson Tigers. It's not like they play every year. In fact, prior to January of 2014 in the Orange Bowl, they only previous matchup with Clemson was famous for a totally different reason - it wound up being Woody Hayes' final game as coach of the Buckeyes.
But when you are consistently part of the national championship conversations every year, the other teams that are in that conversation get a little more of your attention. Today marks Ohio State's fourth appearance and Clemson's sixth in seven years. And this is the third meeting in the last five years between the two teams, so the fan bases have become as familiar with each other as the teams have and an unlikely postseason rivalry was born.
Part of the hatred is immaterial, part of it at times feels manufactured, but it's all very real. Even if he didn't do it intentionally, Dabo Swinney stoked the fire in this fan base in ways that most other teams and coaches haven't been able to do. He's become awfully unpopular in Buckeye conversations. And any coach who takes subtle shots at a team with a fan base as proud as Ohio State has to know the blowback will be loud.
The last two weeks have been deafening.
It really eats at Ohio State that they haven't gotten past the Tigers. This opponent has become synonymous with postseason frustration, and with no regular season games scheduled against them over the next decade, Ohio State's only shot at redemption will come in high stakes games like today's College Football Playoff Semifinal.
The storylines are endless and this game has received as much attention nationally as you'd expect. Trevor Lawrence is trying to cement his legacy as possibly the greatest college quarterback of all-time. Ryan Day and Justin Fields' only loss of their careers came last year against Clemson. Tigers' offensive coordinator Tony Elliott won't be at the game as he deals with a CoVID-19 diagnosis. Neither will Buckeyes starting lineman Harry Miller. Shaun Wade's shot at redemption after last year's ejection. This list is nearly endless, but there's a truckload of gasoline being dumped on the fire and it resulted in one of the great hype videos in college football this season.
The only thing Ohio State hates more than Michigan is being disrespected. And they've made it extremely clear this week how disrespected they feel.
The buildup for this game has been so loud and so dramatic that it feels like the last two weeks have been quite long. And yet, the actual time that passed was much shorter than the typical month leading up to a bowl game.
In a season that has been largely defined by unusual, and often painful, circumstances, there's absolutely no other team the Buckeyes would rather play than Clemson with a shot at going to the national championship.
Date: January 1, 2021
Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome (New Orleans, Louisiana)
Expected Weather: Domed Stadium
Kickoff: 8:20 p.m. Eastern Time
Current Betting Numbers
Spread: Clemson (-7.0)
O/U Total: 68.5
How to Watch/Listen
Streaming: Watch ESPN App
Announcers: Chris Folwer (play-by-play), Kirk Herbstreit (analyst), Maria Taylor (sideline reporter), Tom Rinaldi (sideline reporter)
Local Radio: Ohio State Sports Network from Learfield IMG College
Flagship: WBNS 97.1 The Fan
Announcers: Paul Keels (play-by-play), Jim Lachey (analyst), Matt Andrews (sideline reporter), Skip Mosic (pregame/halftime/postgame host)
National Radio: ESPN
Announcers: Sean Kelly (play-by-play), Barrett Jones (analyst)
All-time: Clemson leads, 4-0
First Meeting: Nov. 22, 1913 ... Ohio State won, 58-0
Last Meeting: Oct. 18, 2019 ... Ohio State won, 52-3
Consecutive Wins: Clemson, 4 games
Dec. 28, 2019 Fiesta Bowl/CFP Semifinal: Clemson - 29, Ohio State - 23
Dec. 31, 2016 Fiesta Bowl/CFP Semifinal: Clemson - 31, Ohio State - 0
Jan. 3, 2014 Orange Bowl: Clemson - 40, Ohio State - 35
Dec. 29, 1978 Gator Bowl: Clemson - 17, Ohio State - 15
* Ryan Day (Career Record: 22-1 in 2nd season ... Ohio State Record: Same ... Record Against Clemson: 0-1)
* Dabo Swinney (Career Record: 140-32 in 13th season ... Clemson Record: Same ... Record Against Ohio State: 3-0)
The Buckeyes are 2-2 in the College Football Playoff since it was instituted for the 2014 season. The Buckeyes won the national title by beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and Oregon in the national championship game, but have since lost twice to Clemson (both in the Fiesta Bowl).
Ohio State is 2-2 all-time in the Sugar Bowl with losses to Alabama (35-6 in 1978) and Florida State (31-14 in 1998) and wins over Texas A&M (24-14 in 1999) and Alabama in a 2015 CFP semifinal (42-35).
Clemson is making its sixth straight appearance in the College Football Playoff, missing only the first one when Ohio State won the whole thing. They have played for four national championships the last five years, beating Alabama twice, losing to the Crimson Tide once and the LSU Tigers last year.
Ohio State’s Ryan Day will become the 99th different head coach to coach in the Sugar Bowl. Only 25 of those coaches made a second appearance in the Sugar Bowl – Clemson’s Dabo Swinney will become the 26th with Friday night’s appearance.
Some random Sugar Bowl statistics:
- After four straight years of seeing a team surpass the 500-yard mark in total offense, the last three Sugar Bowls were more defensive battles. Two years ago, Alabama and Clemson combined for just 449 yards as the Crimson Tide won 24-6. The 2019 game saw Texas top Georgia, 28-21, with the teams combining for 639 total yards – the Longhorns managed 355 yards and the Bulldogs had 284. Last year, Georgia and Baylor combined for 675 total yards. Only 12 of the 172 Sugar Bowl teams have tallied 500 yards of offense in the game.
- In the first 86 editions of the Sugar Bowl, the higher-ranked team has posted a 50-35-1 record – however, over the past four decades (since 1980), the higher- and lower-seeded teams are exactly even at 20-20-1. This year’s game will be the 14th Sugar Bowl to be played on a Friday. For what it’s worth, the higher-ranked team has posted a 7-5-1 mark in Friday Sugar Bowls. Ohio State won its only Friday Sugar Bowl appearance, taking down Texas A&M, 24-14, behind a big game from wide receiver David Boston in the 1999 Sugar Bowl. Clemson’s first two Sugar Bowls were played on Thursday (1959) and Monday (2018). This will also be the 42nd Sugar Bowl to be played at night versus 45 day games.
- This year will mark the third time in history that the ACC and the Big Ten have met in the Sugar Bowl. The first meeting came in the 1998 game when ACC champion Florida State took down Ohio State, 31-14. In 2012, Michigan evened up the series with a game-winning field to top Virginia Tech, 23-20, in the only overtime game in Sugar Bowl history. ACC teams (by current membership, not including Notre Dame) have posted a 17-13-1 mark in Sugar Bowl history while the current members of the Big Ten have an 8-8 record in the New Orleans Classic.
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