Clemson and Deshaun Watson are ready for a playoff trip to the Fiesta Bowl to face Ohio State for a spot in the College Football Playoff championship game.
Who: Clemson (12-1, 7-1 ACC) vs. Ohio State (11-1, 7-1 Big Ten)
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: University of Phoenix Stadium (63,400), Glendale, Ariz
TV: ESPN (Chris Fowler, play-by-play; Kirk Herbstreit, analyst; Sam Ponder, sideline; Tom Rinaldi, sideline
Radio: WZMJ-FM 93.1 FM in Columbia area, Clemson Radio Network
Satellite radio: SiriusXM Ch. 84
Series record: Clemson leads 2-0
Line: Ohio State by 3
What’s at stake
A return trip to the national title game for Clemson, which has to face the first College Football Playoff champion coached by one of best coaches in the country in Urban Meyer.
Three Story lines
1. Big stage comfort? The Tigers looked more than ready in the playoff last year, cleanly pulling away from Oklahoma and pushing Alabama to the limit. Can the Tigers maintain similar big-game proficiency off a season where they weren’t quite as dominant?
2. You again? The last time these teams met, both were at a crossroads. The Ohio State team the Tigers beat in the 2013 Orange Bowl grew into a national champion a year later, while Clemson said goodbye to Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant, leading into the first year with Deshaun Watson on the roster.
3. Noles echos? For better or worse, this year’s Clemson squad has drawn comparisons to the 2014 Florida State team that survived a range of close calls on the way to the playoff. That team got run off the field by Oregon, and that’s where Tigers fans hope the comparison ends.
Three Players to Watch - Clemson
1. Quarterback Deshaun Watson rounded out a slightly less brilliant season than the year before with another trip to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist. He threw for 3,914 yards, 37 scores and 15 interceptions, and also had 524 rushing yards.
2. Wide receiver Mike Williams grew into one of the best receivers in the country in 2016. His 1,171 yards on 84 catches and 10 touchdowns might understate how much he dominated corners in one-on-one matchups.
3. Linebacker Ben Boulware has been an emotional leader for the Tigers and has to rely on feel and knowledge to make up for his speed. He leads the team with 105 tackles, including nine for loss and four sacks, but Ohio State’s multifaceted running game will test him and the rest of Clemson’s front seven.
Three Players to Watch - Ohio State
1. Quarterback J.T. Barrett finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting in Year 1, was a part-time starter in Year 2 and this season became a gritty leader who carried the load. He had 2,428 passing yards, 24 scores and five interceptions, while rushing for 847 yards and nine scores.
2. Running back Curtis Samuel might only be the team’s third-leading rusher, but he’s one of the top playmakers in the country. In addition to his 704 yards and eight touchdowns on 91 carries, he caught 65 passes for 822 yards and reached the end zone seven more times.
3. Safety Malik Hooker has made big plays for the Buckeyes all season, and that could factor in with Watson’s rising interception rate. Hooker was third on the team with 67 tackles and first with six interceptions, three that he took back for touchdowns.