(8) Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs (7) Ohio State Buckeyes (-6.5, 57 o/u)
The Ohio State Buckeyes (11-1, 7-1 Big Ten) won’t be defending their National Championship this season, but they can still cap of the year with a quality win when they take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (10-2) in the Fiesta Bowl this Friday (Jan. 1) at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona (1:00 PM Eastern).
Ohio State’s only loss of the season came against no. 3 Michigan State. But thanks to that loss coming at home and with the Spartans starting their backup QB, the CFP Selection Committee slotted them below several other one-loss teams (including Michigan State).
The loss to the Spartans wasn’t the only game that gave the Selection Committee pause. The Buckeyes had another close call (34-27) against an Indiana team that was also down to its back up pivot.
At the start of the season, head coach Urban Meyer had an embarrassment of riches at the QB position, with Cardale Jones and JT Barrett duking it out for the starting role. Jones had just led the team to a national title after replacing an injured Barrett (who’d led them a one-loss regular season and the Big Ten title game).
But both quarterbacks struggled with their consistency this season and Meyer wound up going back and forth multiple times. Jones finished the year with 1,460 passing yards, eight touchdowns, and five interceptions, while Barrett had 781 yards, ten touchdowns, and three picks; however, the quicker Barrett also added 11 rushing touchdowns.
Barrett will get the nod come New Year’s Day.
Regardless of who’s under center, the Ohio State offense will be spearheaded by RB Ezekiel Elliott. The junior, who’s already declared for the upcoming NFL draft, has been the Buckeye’s engine all year, churning out 1,672 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns.
Notre Dame comes into the Fiesta Bowl with two losses on their resume, but both were of the quality type. The first was a nip-and-tuck 24-22 road loss against Clemson, the no. 1 team in the nation. The second came at the Pac-12 champion Stanford Cardinal on a last-second field goal.
The Irish won’t be at full capacity in this one, however. Safety Max Redfield was suspended for violating team rules, while cornerback Devin Butler suffered a broken bone in his foot on Monday.
With the secondary hurting, the pressure will be on DeShone Kizer, CJ Prosise, and the Irish offense to put up points. The unit averaged a little under 35 points per game during the regular season, but struggled against some quality defenses, like Boston College (whom they edged 19-16) and Clemson (when they suffered the aforementioned 24-22 loss).
In the trends, the Fighting Irish went 8-4 ATS on the year, but are just 1-4-1 ATS in their last six versus the Big Ten and 2-5 ATS in their last seven bowl games as an underdog. The Buckeyes, meanwhile, were just 5-7 ATS on the year, but have a sterling 5-2 ATS record in their last seven bowl games.
Given that most of Ohio State’s key players have the experience of a national championship under their belts, role with the Buckeyes to win by a touchdown.
Pick: Ohio State -6.5.
(Photo credit: Adam Glanzman (Flickr: asg.fbc.vsOSU.11.30.131225 copy) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo has been cropped.)