Ohio State Buckeyes (-6.5, 54 o/u) vs Notre Dame Fighting Irish
It’s not the game either the Ohio State Buckeyes (11-1, 7-1 Big Ten) or Notre Dame Fighting Irish (10-2, independent) wanted, but for college football fans, it’s a dream scenario. What better way to wallow in a New Year’s Eve hangover than watching two of the nation’s best programs pound the crap out of each other in the Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 1 at 1:00 PM Eastern)?
The Buckeyes suffered only their fourth loss in four seasons – but second at the hands of the Michigan State Spartans – in Week 12, a 17-14 setback that had many Ohio State players headed for the exits. Running back Ezekiel Elliott was particularly outspoken after being held to just 33 yards on 12 carries in a game that dashed any chance of claiming the Heisman Trophy. With Elliott, QB Cardale Jones, DE Joey Bosa, WR Michael Thomas and many more likely making the jump to the NFL, this will be the last game together for the group that won college football’s first-ever playoff.
Notre Dame also entered Week 12 slotted in a playoff spot. An ugly 19-16 victory over a three-win Boston College team sprung a leak in the Irish ship, but it was the 38-36 loss to Stanford the week after that sunk them. Couple that with Notre Dame’s tight loss against Clemson (24-22) and the Irish are missing the playoffs by a total of just four points.
The tale of the tape on this one is pretty even. The high-powered Buckeyes average 35 points a game, while surrendering just 14. The Irish offense is capable of keeping pace; led by sophomore QB DeShone Kizer, they average 34.8 points and 471.5 yards a game. But defensively, they aren’t as impressive, allowing 22.4 points on average (while playing a pretty ACC-heavy schedule).
Bosa leads a disruptive Buckeye defensive line that racked up 34 sacks on the year, and has the tools to keep Notre Dame’s run game in check. But a big question surrounding this game is motivation. How much do these teams care about this game after falling short of their ultimate goal?
Certainly the game offers a big stage for some of the top talents to show off for scouts. Senior Irish running back CJ Prosise has an opportunity to boost his stock after a solid 1,032-yard and 11-TD campaign. Junior receiver Will Fuller sounds like he’ll be returning to South Bend next season, but any opportunity to show that he’s one of the top receivers in college is a golden one. Fuller led the team in receiving by a significant margin with 1,145 yards and 13 TDs. (Notre Dame’s next top wideout – Chris Brown – had 562 yards and three majors.)
For Ohio State, not everyone is taking part in the exodus. Quarterback JT Barrett will be back next year to lead what remains of this offense, and another strong performance would be a confidence booster heading into 2016 (a possible Heisman season for the mobile QB). In the Buckeyes last game against Michigan, Barrett threw for 113 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 139 and three more scores.
Ohio State is 4-2 all-time in the Fiesta Bowl while Notre Dame is 1-3. The two storied schools have only faced each other five previous times and the Buckeyes lead the series 3-2, including a win in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl.
This season, the Irish are 8-4 against the spread, including 3-0 as an underdog. The Buckeyes are just 5-7 ATS, but have won four of their last six. Ohio State has gone over the total in just three of 12 games this year, while Notre Dame is an even 6-6 on the game total.
The trends dictate playing Notre Dame in this one. But knowing what Ohio State is capable of doing when they’re firing on all cylinders makes that a tough sell. As long as the line stays where it is, I’d roll with the Buckeyes and the under.
Pick: Ohio State (-6.5) and UNDER.
(Photo Credit: Daniel Hartwig (Originally posted to Flickr)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/.)