FIESTA BOWL: OHIO STATE BUCKEYES VS. CLEMSON TIGERS (+3, O/U 59), Sat., 7 p.m. ET
The late game Saturday in the College Football Playoffs features a rematch between two clubs that is likely to set up another high-profile rematch for the winner.
Clemson and Ohio State met in the 2014 Orange Bowl, but their matchup in this Fiesta Bowl comes with much higher stakes.
The winner gets a date in the national title game and a strong chance of facing Alabama, and both have recent history with the Crimson Tide.
Of course, the Buckeyes upset Alabama in the first four-team playoff two seasons ago on their way to taking the title, while the Tigers appeared in last year?s title game and put up a fight before losing
In the most recent meeting between Ohio State and Clemson, the Tigers came out on top 40-35 behind the leadership of Tajh Boyd and two touchdown catches from Sammy Watkins.
Braxton Miller threw for two touchdowns and Carlos Hyde had 113 rushing yards for the Buckeyes, but two fourth-quarter turnovers doomed them.
Now, the heir-apparents for both clubs take the stage in the rematch as Clemson is led by two-time Heisman finalist Deshaun Watson and Ohio State is guided by dynamic dual-threat J.T. Barrett.
JOSH NAGEL'S TAKE
These are two of the most talented and balanced teams in the country, as Clemson (12-1) and Ohio State (11-1) are both in the top 15 of most major statistical categories.
The Tigers average 506 total yards (No. 12 nationally) and 40.2 points (No. 14), while giving up just 18.4 points (No. 11) and 313.9 yards (No. 9).
The Buckeyes have similar accolades, but they are even stronger on the defensive side with the nation?s third-ranked scoring defense (14.2 ppg) and No. 4 in total yards (286).
Ohio State is ninth in scoring offense (42.7 ppg), while ranking No. 20 in total yards (479.5).
I think the defensive numbers are a bit of a mirage for the Tigers, who have given up 34 or more points four times and allowed 43 in their loss to Pittsburgh.
By contrast, the Buckeyes' seasn high in points allowed was 27 in an overtime win against rival Michigan, and they allowed just 24 in a road win against high-powered Oklahoma.
This spread opened at Ohio State -3.5 in most markets, but that number didn't last long as underdog supporters quickly gobbled up the lucrative half-point hook and pushed the spread to the key number of -3.
It has been there ever since, and it appears the only potential movement might be downward, as the Covers consensus reports 61 percent of the action coming in on Clemson.
The total opened as high as 61 in some spots but has been lowered to 59, the consensus number as of Thursday afternoon.
SportsLine contributor Micah Roberts has a selection on this game. Get his and all other SportsLine expert picks by clicking here.
I've admittedly flip-flopped a little bit on this game, as at first I leaned toward the underdog. But an extensive look at the all the relevant data and season?s worth of eye tests tell me Ohio State is the better team.
I also prefer backing Urban Meyer to Dabo Swinney, but have not lost sight of the fact that the Clemson coach got the best of his counterpart the last time these clubs met, and he's' still generally underappreciated by many football observers.
Even so, I'm leaning toward the Buckeyes to win, but I think both defensive units will face the best offense they have seen this year. I anticipate four quarters of big-play offense that sends the score Over the posted total.