College Sports

Clemson has a date in the desert with Ohio State on New Year’s Eve

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) celebrates a touchdown during the second half of Saturday’s ACC championship.
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) celebrates a touchdown during the second half of Saturday’s ACC championship. AP

I think you could have written Clemson’s, Ohio State’s and Washington’s names on slips of paper, thrown them into a baseball cap and completed seeding for these College Football Playoffs by blind draw.

Only one thing is indisputable: That top seed Alabama’s resume far exceeds any other contender’s for the national championship.

Washington’s non-conference schedule was bogus. Ohio State not only didn’t win the Big Ten, it didn’t qualify for the conference championship game. Clemson might be 12-1, but it lost at home to the 8-4 Pitt Panthers and was fortunate not to also lose to 6-6 N.C. State.

So I think Clemson made out fine as the No. 2 seed, facing Ohio State in Glendale, Ariz., Dec. 31. If I were the Tigers, I’d rather fly across the country to play the Buckeyes than drive down I-85 for a first-round game against the mighty Crimson Tide in Atlanta.

That doesn’t mean the Tigers’ route to Tampa and a second consecutive title-game appearance is easy.

I like that the selection committee has criteria, such as valuing a major-conference championship. I also like that those are guidelines, not absolutes. Ohio State went 11-1 with victories over Michigan, Wisconsin and Oklahoma. That looks like a Final Four resume to me.

So what do we know about Clemson-Ohio State? We know these programs last played each other in the 2014 Orange Bowl, with Clemson winning 40-35. Ex-Tiger Sammy Watkins set an Orange Bowl record with 227 receiving yards and was named that game’s most valuable player.

Many of the key players from that Clemson team have moved on, but that was definitely the span when the Tigers surged forward and became a recruiting machine. Elite players in this group — quarterback Deshaun Watson, wide receiver Mike Williams, tight end Jordan Leggett — recognized the significance of Clemson beating so prominent an opponent in such a big game.

The current Buckeyes’ season pivoted on the game against arch-rival Michigan, with both teams then ranked in the top three. This was the first time an Ohio State-Michigan game went to overtime.

The best thing for Ohio State that day was the expanding stardom of linebacker Raekwon McMillan. He had 16 tackles in that game, seven of those solo.

The worst thing for the Buckeyes: The offense gave up eight sacks.

One of the Tigers’ growing strengths this season has been defensive line play. They had four sacks against Virginia Tech in the ACC title game, while the Hokies never sacked Watson in 34 passing attempts.

The most interesting player on Clemson’s defensive line is freshman tackle Dexter Lawrence, who had two of those sacks. Lawrence is gigantic at 6-5 and 340 pounds, but there is a nimbleness about his footwork that makes him a rare athlete.

I’m sure Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer knows a lot about Lawrence already. Guessing he’ll know a lot more by New Year’s Eve.

Rick Bonnell: 704-358-5129, @rick_bonnell

Playoff matchups

Peach Bowl (Dec. 31)

1. Alabama vs. 4. Washington, 3 p.m.

Fiesta Bowl (Dec. 31)

2. Clemson vs. 3. Ohio State, 7 p.m.

National championship

Jan. 9, 8:30 p.m. at Tampa, Fla.

Other Bowls

Camellia: Appalachian State vs. Toledo, Dec. 17, 5:30 p.m.

Independence: N.C. State vs. Vanderbilt, Dec. 26, 5 p.m.

Military: Wake Forest vs. Temple, Dec. 27, 3:30 p.m.

Birmingham: South Florida vs. South Carolina, Dec. 29, 2 p.m.

Belk (at Charlotte): Virginia Tech vs. Arkansas, Dec. 29, 5:30 p.m.

Sun: North Carolina vs. Stanford, Dec. 30, 2 p.m.

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