A year after winning the national championship as part of the first ever College Football Playoff, No.7 Ohio State won’t get a chance to participate in the postseason this season. The Buckeyes are set to face No.8 Notre Dame in the BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Day.
The defending champs looked like they might be on their way to another title, until they lost to Michigan State in their second-to-last game of the regular season, giving them an 11-1 record. Notre Dame’s only defeat in their first 11 games came against top-ranked Clemson, but a heartbreaking loss in their last contest kept them out of the national title picture.
Ohio State is a 6.5-point favorite in Glendale, Arizona, according to vegasinsider.com. The over/under is 56 points.
Settling for the Fiesta Bowl
It’s not surprising that Ohio State and Notre Dame are facing off in a bowl game, but for much of the season it looked like it was a matchup that might take place in the College Football Playoffs. The Buckeyes haven’t reached expectations this season, and the Fighting Irish blew their chance to compete for the national title in their last game.
For most teams, a trip to the Fiesta Bowl and a No.7 ranking would be considered a successful season. But Ohio State was the unanimous No.1 choice atop the preseason AP Poll, and they didn’t even reach the playoffs. The combination of J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones at quarterback didn’t produce the results that many experts had predicted. With just one notable win on their schedule, Ohio State couldn’t make it to the CFP after losing to Michigan State, who was missing their starting quarterback.
Notre Dame didn’t have a disappointing 2015 campaign, but they blew a golden opportunity to make the postseason. A win over Stanford in their last game likely would have put the Irish in the playoffs, but they couldn’t hold a one-point lead that they took with just 30 seconds remaining.
Importance of Ezekiel Elliott
Ohio State has one of the best weapons in football in Elliott, and almost no team has had an answer for him this year. Elliott’s one subpar performance came in the Buckeyes’ only loss, and the team is looking for him to put up big numbers on Friday.
Elliott ranks fifth with 1,672 rushing yards, and he’s been incredibly consistent. The running back has surpassed the 100-yard mark in 11 of 12 games, averaging better than seven yards per carry on five occasions. He even ran for 214 yards in Ohio State’s last game against Michigan, who boasts an elite defense. Elliott carried the ball 12 times for just 33 yards in a loss to Michigan State when he got no help from his passing game, as Barrett completed nine passes for 46 yards.
Notre Dame has been vulnerable against the run at times, ranking 65th in rushing yards allowed per game. But the team has stepped up when facing elite rushers. Christian McCaffrey, who has the nation's second-most rushing yards, was held to 3.5 yards per carry against the Fighting Irish. Against two other top-30 rushers, Wayne Gallman and Jahad Thomas, Notre Dame surrendered 193 rushing yards and one touchdown on 44 attempts.
DeShone Kizer vs. the Buckeyes
Kizer has filled in admirably for the injured Malik Zaire, going 8-2 as a starter and leading Notre Dame to the Fiesta Bowl. The quarterback has been key to the Fighting Irish’s success in 2015, and the team will need him to have another strong performance on New Year’s Day.
It won’t be easy for Kizer to have success against one of the nation’s top pass defenses. Ohio State ranks 12th in passing yards allowed per game, and they will look to take advantage of a quarterback that needs to limit his mistakes. Notre Dame only defeated lowly Boston College by a field goal on Nov. 21 when Kizer was picked off three times. On Halloween, the quarterback threw two interceptions as Notre Dame needed a late touchdown to squeak by Temple. Kizer has thrown 14 touchdowns and three interceptions when the team scores 30 points or more. In the four games in which Notre Dame has not reached the 30-point mark, Kizer has posted five touchdown passes and six interceptions.
Ohio State only has 11 interceptions on the season, but they do a good job of pressuring the quarterback. The Buckeyes are tied for 18th in the country with 34 sacks on the year, and they are going up against one of the best offensive lines in college football.
Elliott will put up big numbers like he has all season long, but Notre Dame should be able to keep it close. The Buckeyes might not have an answer for wide receiver Will Fuller, giving the Fighting Irish a chance to move the ball better than most Ohio State opponents. A late field goal could decide this contest.
Ohio State over Notre Dame, 30-27