Look­ing to buck CFP trend

Orlando Sentinel - - SPORTS WEEKEND -

have a re­ally good quar­ter­back. We have a re­ally good quar­ter­back. They have a re­ally good run­ning back; we have a re­ally good run­ning back. It goes back and forth. It will be fun to watch.”

Of course, Swin­ney loves the playoff. Clem­son is mak­ing its fifth straight ap­pear­ance as At­lantic Coast Con­fer­ence cham­pion. The Tigers have played in three CFP cham­pi­onship games and won two of the last three ti­tles. They have nudged Alabama to the side and now stand with the Crim­son Tide as col­lege foot­ball’s gold stan­dard.

Ohio State has been just be­low that tier of two. The Buck­eyes won the first Col­lege Foot­ball Playoff in 2014, mak­ing a run from the fourth seed, but have made only one ap­pear­ance since.

It did not go well. Clem­son beat Ohio State 31-0 in the 2016 Fi­esta Bowl, maybe the low point in what has been one of the great runs in the history of the sto­ried pro­gram. In the last nine years un­der coach Ur­ban Meyer and Day, the Buck­eyes are 96-9 with four Big Ten ti­tles.

“I know that we’re al­ways in the con­ver­sa­tion year in and year out, and have been since [the playoff ] started,” Day said.

“Some of the things that have hap­pened in the past have noth­ing to do with this team, with this coach­ing staff.”

Day’s first sea­son as Meyer’s re­place­ment has un­leashed a dif­fer­ent kind of Ohio State of­fense, fea­tur­ing a dif­fer­ent kind of Ohio State quar­ter­back.

Justin Fields ar­rived as a trans­fer from Ge­or­gia with all the best tal­ents of re­cent Ohio State quar­ter­backs rolled into one 6-foot-3, 225-pound pack­age. Fields, a for­mer five-star re­cruit, can sling it like Dwayne Hask­ins and run it like J.T. Bar­rett — ex­cept he might be bet­ter at both.

Fields, who has been nurs­ing a sore left knee, has 40 touch­down passes, 10 touch­down runs and has thrown just one in­ter­cep­tion.

“Big arm. Able to hit his holes. Sit it in the pocket. Tak­ing what­ever needs to be done,” Clem­son safety Tan­ner Muse said. “He’s a very strong guy. And then his legs. I think his legs are what make him an elite player.”

On the other side, Clem­son quar­ter­back Trevor Lawrence, a Ge­or­gia na­tive like Fields, al­ready has a na­tional cham­pi­onship on his re­sume. Last year he be­came the first fresh­man quar­ter­back since 1985 to lead his team to a ti­tle.


“Un­be­liev­able player,” Ohio State line­backer Tuf Bor­land said. “You can’t say enough good things about him. You guys see him sit­ting back there and mak­ing throws all over the field. He’s also able to ex­tend the play when he gets out of the pocket and finds some open guys.”

For as good as the Buck­eyes and the Tigers have been this sea­son, both have tried to po­si­tion them­selves as dis­re­spected un­der­dogs.

The Buck­eyes are quick to point out they weren’t picked to win the Big Ten and they will come into the game with the bet­ter seed but as about a 2-point un­der­dog.

Swin­ney has com­plained all year that Clem­son was not get­ting the usual re­spect granted to a de­fend­ing na­tional cham­pion. He made sure to point out to his team that it was the first since 1966 to start to the sea­son No. 1 in the AP poll, win all of its games, and fin­ish No. 3.

No­body is re­ally buy­ing any of it. For the first time in the Col­lege Foot­ball Playoff, a semi­fi­nal fea­tures a matchup of su­per­pow­ers.

“It is a na­tional cham­pi­onship game,“Swin­ney said, “be­cause if we don’t win it, we ain’t go­ing to the na­tional cham­pi­onship game.”


Clem­son’s Travis Eti­enne, left, cel­e­brates with team­mate Luke Price (80) af­ter run­ning for a touch­down ear­lier this sea­son. The Tigers will face off with Ohio State in the Fi­esta Bowl Satur­day.

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