Lots of pundits have lots of opinions about Saturday’s Fiesta Bowl, the College Football Playoff semifinal between the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes and No. 3 Clemson Tigers.

At least one consistent Buckeye basher doesn’t even think the Buckeyes can hang with the Tigers.

But most seem to think that a close, exciting game is in store on Saturday night (8 p.m. ET, ESPN) in Glendale, Ariz.

So how do these teams match up?

We try to answer that question with our Ohio State vs. Clemson Fiesta Bowl game preview.

When Ohio State has the ball

This is strength against strength.

Ohio State ranks first in the country in scoring at 48.7 points per game. The Buckeyes also lead in first downs per game and third-down offense and are near the top in major categories such as total offense (fifth, 531 ypg) and rushing (fifth, 272.2 ypg).

Quarterback Justin Fields has passed for 2,953 yards with a 67.5% completion rate and a 190.3 passer rating. But the most eye-popping number has to be his touchdown-to-interception ratio: 40 TDs to 1 pick. One interception in 308 attempts. This from a sophomore in his first season as starter. As long as Fields is in full health a few weeks after injuring his left knee, he has to be the top concern for Clemson’s greatly respected defensive coordinator, Brent Venables.

J.K. Dobbins led the Big Ten in rushing with 1,829 yards on 283 carries (6.5 ypc) and 20 touchdowns. Fields is also dangerous as a runner, chipping in 10 rushing TDs. And Master Teague has proven to be more than capable as a backup, gaining 780 rushing yards with 4 TDs.

OSU’s receiving wealth is spread pretty generously. K.J. Hill leads the Buckeyes in receptions with 51, enough to break David Boston’s school record for career receptions. With one catch against Clemson, Hill also would tie Gary Williams for the most consecutive games with a catch in school history at 48.

But Chris Olave (45 catches, 790 yards, 11TDs) is the bigger big-play threat for Fields’ downfield throws. Three other players have at least 20 catches and Dobbins (17 catches) has to be accounted for coming out of the backfield.

The OSU offensive line has been consistent, strong and healthy throughout the season. All-American Wyatt Davis, Josh Myers and graduate transfer Jonah Jackson have started all 13 games this season. Left tackle Thayer Munford has started 12 and Branden Bowen has started 11.

As for Clemson, its defense can match OSU’s offense stat for stat. The Tigers lead the nation in fewest points allowed (10.6 per game) and total defense (244.7 ypg) as well as fewest first downs allowed and passing yards allowed.

Unanimous All-American linebacker Isaiah Simmons leads Clemson’s defense. Simmons had 93 tackles, 14 for loss, and 7 sacks to lead the team in all three categories.

Clemson’s D-line is strong but it’s not quite at the level of the line from the previous few seasons when a quartet of NFL-ready studs trashed opposing offenses all over the country. Clemson is averaging 2.92 sacks per game, not bad — ranked 19th — but not in step with the all-time great unit they are replacing in 2019. This area is critical because if OSU’s O-line has a weakness, it’s in pass protection. The Buckeyes have allowed 2.39 sacks per game, ranking them 94th in FBS.

Clemson safety Tanner Muse and cornerback A.J. Terrell were first-team All-ACC picks. Muse led the team in interceptions with 4 and Terrell had a pick in Clemson’s rout over then-ranked Wake Forest.

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When Clemson has the ball

Stop us if you have read this before: This is strength against strength.

Clemson is fourth in the nation in points per game (46.5), third in total offense (547.7 yards per game), 10th in rushing yards (252.9 ypg) and 20th in passing (294.8). That passing total would undoubtedly be higher had the Tigers found themselves in any close games outside of their 1-point escape against North Carolina (of course the same could be said of Fields).

OSU is second in FBS in points allowed per game (12.5), fifth in rushing defense (99.5 yards allowed per game) and second in total defense (247.6). But that does not mean everything is worry-free for the scarlet and gray.

Ohio State’s secondary is a star-studded unit but the Buckeyes have allowed 148.1 passing yards per game, ranked 41st in the country. More worryingly for Buckeyes fans, the defense allowed 200 or more yards passing against both Michigan and in the Big Ten Championship Game against Wisconsin; OSU opponents went over 200 yards passing only three times in the first 11 games.

And none of the quarterbacks the Buckeyes faced were on the same level as Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence.

Lawrence had another stellar season as a true sophomore, throwing for 3,172 yards and 34 touchdowns with 8 interceptions. Yet a spate of pickoffs early in the season led some pundits to wonder what was wrong with Lawrence. Was there anything to it?  Well, Lawrence is averaging a similar number of attempts per game — 26.47 last season (397 in 15 games) to 25.92 (337 in 13 games) — yet his yards per attempt has risen from 8.3 to 9.4, his rating increased from 157.6 to 176.5 and his TDs are up from 30 to 34. In the past 6 games, he has 20 TD passes and no interceptions.

If there is anything “wrong” with Lawrence, no opponent has exploited it yet.

Clemson’s receivers are also top notch, with Justyn Ross and Tee Higgins each hauling in 50-plus catches and another three players tallying at least 20 receptions. But Higgins is the unquestioned big-play threat, with 1,082 yards and 13 touchdowns.

And running back Travis Etienne leads the nation at 8.2 yards per carry. Etienne has gained 1,500 yards on 182 carries, just 14 carries per game.

Ohio State is a veteran defense that went through the struggles of last season and has erased those bad memories under Day and first-year co-defensive coordinators Jeff Hafley and Greg Mattison. Hafley will leave OSU to take over as Boston College’s new head coach after the postseason ends in Columbus.

The Buckeyes have 6 players with at least 20 starts on defense including all 3 starting linebackers — Malik Harrison, Tuf Borland and Pete Werner. Harrison led the team in tackles in the regular season with 69 (15 for loss) and added 4.5 sacks.

Consensus first-team All-American Jeff Okudah leads OSU’s secondary, which has broken up 54 passes this season; opponents only have 24 PBUs against the Buckeyes.

But of course the defensive player that all eyes will be on is Chase Young, the unanimous All-American defensive end. Young has had a dream season as a junior, leading the nation with 16.5 sacks and piling up 21 tackles for loss, 6 quarterback hits, 6 forced fumbles and a blocked kick.

The Clemson offensive line, led by consensus All-American guard John Simpson, has opened lanes for Etienne and mostly kept Lawrence clean; the Tigers have allowed 13 sacks, the fifth-best average in the country. For all the praise OSU’s big guys have gotten, and it’s well earned, Clemson’s offensive line actually leads the country in line yards as defined by ProFootballFocus.com’s ratings.

According to that same PFF system, the Tigers also are tops in the nation in standard downs line yards (production on first down, second and 7 or fewer, and third or fourth downs of 4 yards or fewer); passing downs line yards; and “opportunity rate” (runs of 4 yards or more when applicable).

But, just as OSU has not faced a QB like Trevor Lawrence, it’s safe to say Clemson’s O-line has not faced a threat like Chase Young. His production has helped the Buckeyes to the nation’s third-best sack rate at 3.92 per game — even better according to Pro Football Focus, which rates OSU tops in the nation in unadjusted sack rate at 12.8% for all pass attempts outside of garbage time.

As much as Etienne means to the Clemson offense, keeping Young and the rest of the Buckeyes D-line away from Lawrence must be the first priority for Tigers co-offensive coordinators Jeff Scott — who was named the new head coach at South Florida and will assume those duties once Clemson’s season ends — and Tony Elliott.

Special teams

Both teams have solid but not great special teams units.

OSU is 67th in punt returns with a 7.7-yard average but Clemson is even lower at 79th, with a 6.5 average. Both teams are marginally better at kickoff returns: OSU is 47th (21.8-yard average) and Clemson is 39th (22.2).

Drue Chrisman of OSU has a slight edge in punting. He’s averaging 44.1 yards per attempt and has pinned opponents inside the 20 on 15 occasions. Clemson’s Will Spiers averages 42.5 yards and has 10 punts inside the opposing 20.

The Buckeyes also have a more reliable kicker — Blake Haubeil has only attempted 12 field goals but has hit 10 including a 55-yarder; Tigers kicker P.T. Potter is 12-for-19 and has missed 3 of 6 attempts from 30-39 yards.

Coaching and intangibles

Ohio State revamped its staff out of necessity in the offseason when Urban Meyer retired after 7 seasons at the Buckeyes helm.

To say it has worked out would be an understatement.

Ryan Day and his staff have assembled a tougher, more disciplined, more productive team than Meyer’s 2018 swansong even though last year’s team finished 13-1. Day is 16-0 as Buckeyes coach including his 3 games in charge last year on an interim basis during Meyer’s suspension.

Even with all that — and make no mistake, Day has done a fantastic job on every level — it would be hard for even those wearing scarlet-and-gray glasses to give him the coaching edge in this matchup.

Dabo Swinney eliminated the word Clemsoning from the English language. Remember Clemsoning? The word was coined in the days when the Tigers program seemed to have all the talent it needed to reach the greatest heights, only to fall short in critical situations time and time again. Swinney hated that word. He went off on media types who used it.

Then he fought back the best way possible against that word. He won so much that he killed it.

What more can you say about a coach who has led his team to 2 of the past 3 national championships, 5 straight CFP appearances including this year, 5 straight ACC titles and 9 consecutive 10-win seasons? Clemson is 68-4 in the past 5 seasons. That’s not a typo. That’s a .944 winning percentage since the start of the 2014 season.

Mock the ACC all you want, but remember that this team has also split 4 playoff meetings against Alabama in the past 4 years, with a pair of those Clemson wins coming in the CFP title game.

One more thing. Not that this has any predictive significance, but OSU is 0-3 all-time against Clemson, all in bowls. It’s a stat OSU does not want to hear about, of course, but even Day admitted that “we do bring it up as a reference point.” OSU fans surely won’t relish memories of two meetings against the Tigers since 2014. But even moreso, older Buckeye boosters really would rather forget the 1978 Gator Bowl, in which Woody Hayes punched a Clemson player on the sideline during the game and was forced out the next day, ending his 28-year tenure as OSU coach.

There’s only one path for OSU to reach the national title game in the 2019-20 season and it’s through Clemson. That is so appropriate, both to prove that Clemson can be beaten and to shake off the pain of both the recent and distant past against the Tigers.