Well, it's on — 5 questions we have to ask now that Ohio State will face Clemson
Well, it’s on.
The game Ohio State has been wanting — for better or worse — for a year has been set up.
It’s Ohio State vs. Clemson. Again.
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The Buckeyes and Tigers will meet in the College Football Playoff semifinals, 8 p.m. Jan. 1 in the Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. And let’s face it: Everything leading up to this moment was just the preseason. All the debate about the season, then the conference games, then the postponed games, then the rules changes, then the B1G championship.
It was all just the appetizer, right? This is what the players, coaches and fans wanted to see since Clemson defeated Ohio State last year.
“The way that game ended last year, there was some controversy,” ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said. “There will be hype.”
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Now let’s take a step back. I don’t want to minimize what this Buckeyes team has done, especially in a season that was ravaged by tragedy, social unrest and COVID-19. This season took a lot out of everyone, including student-athletes.
To show up and take care of business the way the Buckeyes did was historic. They won the B1G and beat every team they were allowed to play. They did all they could.
And now they have been rewarded. But, as we know, questions linger about this team. Here are 5 of them as we digest the CFP Committee’s decisions, and prepare for the hype of Ohio State vs. Clemson:
1. Will the real Justin Fields show up?
Which is the true Ohio State quarterback?
Is it the one who looked adversity in the eye against Michigan State and made it blink? Or is it the one who struggled in the 2 biggest games the Buckeyes have played this year? It is a fact that Fields did not look good when the pressure was on. He made poor decisions against Indiana, and — albeit without his best receiving weapon in Chris Olave, and with a possibly injured thumb — he struggled against Northwestern.
So who will Clemson see? Will Fields even be 100 percent when they play? It’s possibly the most-talked-about question as we head into the game.
2. Can the defense hang with the Tigers’ O?
When the Ohio State offense struggled against Northwestern, it was their much-questioned defense that stood tall. These guys have developed into a solid, bend-but-don’t-break force. They have definitely gotten better over the course of the season, and they have seemingly solved a few of their problems.
But they will never have a test like what they will face against the Tigers. The Buckeyes must get healthy, and they must play perfect ball against Clemson’s high-octane offense. It means no miscommunications. It means young players must play older. It means they have to get pressure, and they have to force turnovers.
Can they do it? We’ll have to wait to see.
3. How much does the revenge factor matter?
Yes, Ohio State is mad. They feel they got the shaft last season, and they’ve all said they want to face Clemson again.
You know what they say: Be careful what you wish for. But here we are, and now the Buckeyes will get their chance, on the biggest of stages. In something that rarely happens, Ohio State is the underdog in this game (Clemson is favored by 6.5 right now), and they will have emotion on their side. Will that motivation be enough to put the Buckeyes over the top?
If everything were equal, having that motivation could make a big difference.
4. Can the Buckeyes use the time off to get better (or healthy?)
Fields’ thumb should be monitored, as should all of those who have been in COVID quarantine. The B1G will tweak its 21-day quarantine protocol rules for athletes, decreasing it to 17, which will help. And having someone like Olave back will definitely make things easier for Fields. Of course, what we cannot predict is what happens if — or when — other players come down with the virus (or if they come into contact with others who have it).
It seems like this is the one wild card, and it has been the one that has been lurking in the shadows all season. We know players like Trevor Lawrence have already had it, and I guess that’s good news. But do we know he can’t get it again? Not really.
In short, there’s no way to know how this could affect these teams in the upcoming weeks.
5. Ultimately, do the Buckeyes belong?
It’s a question we can’t answer until we see these Buckeyes perform against the best. Clemson definitely fits that mold. But according to the analysts, the answer is simple.
“Absolutely justified,” ESPN analyst Joey Galloway said. “This team belongs. Nothing was given to them. They earned it and they deserve it.”
“They’ve not played their best football yet,” Herbstreit said.
And as always, if you want Ohio State out of the Playoff, whom do you put in? Oddsmaker Danny Sheridan reported on ESPN that Ohio State would be a 20-point favorite over Cincinnati and a 15-point favorite over Oklahoma. That’s how people feel about the Buckeyes in relation to other teams. Simply, they’re 1 of the best 4 teams, so they’re in.
“They’re undefeated, they’d beaten 2 ranked teams throughout the year and they won the B1G championship,” said Gary Barta, Selection Committee Chair of the College Football Playoff and Iowa’s Director of Athletics.
That may be the best way to put it.
Now there’s nothing left but to play.