As the Sugar Bowl gets closer and a new year approaches it’s hard to believe 2020 is almost over and the college football season that almost never happened is coming to an end. This semifinal pits the No. 2 Clemson Tigers against the No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes for the sequel to last year’s semifinal matchup and there are many storylines leading up to this game.
- The Sugar Bowl: One storyline that many Tiger fans don’t want to talk about but is a glaring one. That is the fact that Clemson’s semifinal is being played at the Sugar Bowl. The Tigers definitely have not fared well inside the New Orleans Superdome. Three years ago Alabama dismantled Clemson 24-6 in this same game. The Tigers were taken to the woodshed. Especially, up front.
Fast forward, less than 12 months ago, when Clemson returned to New Orleans for another beatdown. This time the Tigers ran into the buzzsaw known as the 2019 LSU juggernaut, and the SEC Tigers won 42-25 behind what some think was the best offense in college football ever. Do those games have anything to do with Friday’s playoff contest? Unlikely, but you can expect coaches and players to be asked about the Superdome struggles and if Ohio State gets an early lead it will be brought up even more often during the game along with just how they handle it.
- Missing Talent: The Tigers junior defensive end Xavier Thomas missed the rematch with Notre Dame in the ACC Championship Game on Dec. 19. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney gave no reason for Thomas’ absence other than he was simply unavailable. It’s hard to figure out what is going on with a player who’s been in the doghouse with coaches before but has also had medical issues that have hampered things as well. Thomas is listed on this week’s depth chart as a second-stringer. Will he be available for Ohio State? This is a huge question and, for sure, the Tigers could use him because of his immense talent. When you add in the fact that senior DE Justin Foster has been out all season it’s not Clemson’s deepest position.
- Ohi0-4: Ohio State has never beaten the Tigers in four tries. What has to make them feel even worse is the fact that they have never beaten either of the major universities from South Carolina. Then add in the fact that it feels worse also because three of those losses have come more recently. Of course, neither fanbases will ever forget Woody Hayes’ final game as the Buckeyes head coach in the 1978 Gator Bowl, but with the other three losses coming since 2014, and all in very disappointing ways to Clemson, some feel that this matchup has become more of a rivalry than some other teams Ohio State plays in the B1G.
- Controversy: This is one of the storylines that no one is gonna let slip by. Ohio State fans, coaches, and players felt they got jilted last year. They felt this way because they had a fumble recovery returned for a touchdown taken off the board. Clemson WR Justyn Ross caught a pass from QB Trevor Lawrence, took three steps with possession of the ball, and had it stripped by Buckeye defender Jeff Okudah. Safety Jordan Fuller picked it up and ran the ball into the end zone and the play was ruled a touchdown. Then after further review, the referees decided that Ross didn’t complete the process of the catch and the score was taken away from Ohio State. That touchdown gave Ohio State a 23-21 lead when it happened, and the Buckeyes wound up losing the game by six points.
One thing that did not help make things any better was two days later Big Ten Supervisor of Officials, Bill Carollo, stated that the SEC officials working the game blew that call. Head coach Ryan Day was furious at the reversal. There’s no way to know for sure if it costed Ohio State the chance to play LSU for the national championship but you will never find an Ohio State fan anywhere on the planet that would believe otherwise.
- Giving Fuel Out Free: These two teams need very little motivation. These two coaches have managed to give just that though. It began as, over the last two weeks, Swinney ranked the Buckeyes No. 11 in his coaches poll and doubled down, then tripled down, on why he thinks Ohio State didn’t deserve a spot in the CFP. Unlike the other three participants, the Buckeyes only played six games. Swinney stated that he did not feel that teams like Texas A&M, Florida, and Cincinnati should have been punished for playing an entire season while Ohio State got in after playing only 5 regular season games. It did not help that the B1G voted to change their rule on minimum games played to allow the Buckeyes to get into their championship game.
On the other side it did not come across well when a video was leaked from Ohio State’s locker room of Day promising his players a win over Alabama, Clemson, or anyone else they had to play in the playoff. The same type of comments were made by Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly and starting QB Ian Book before the ACC championship game and everyone knows how that worked out.