Fiesta Bowl - Glendale, AZ
Notre Dame vs. Ohio State
Friday, Janaury 1, 10 am PT - ESPN
CRIS Opener: Ohio State -6.5 O/U 54
CRIS Current: Ohio State -6 O/U 56.5
Recommendation: Notre Dame
From tradition, competitive and ability standpoints, this is a terrific draw for the Fiesta Bowl. My power ratings suggest that these are two of the top eight teams in the nation so of the 38 non-playoff Bowls, it’s as close to a CFB Playoff caliber game as there is on the schedule. The game does not feature any real situational angle but you could make a small case that Notre Dame has a motivational advantage since the Buckeyes are a bit disappointed to not be in the four team playoff. However, this New Year’s Day stage and this opponent likely negate that. Fundamental matchups should determine the best way to play this one so let’s take a look at a couple keys.
It’s been a tough month for Ohio State which has seen some personnel losses due to injury and off field issues. A team imposed suspension will cost them starting sr. DT Adolphus Washington and combined with the injury loss of fellow sr. DT Tommy Schutt (foot), the Buckeyes defensive interior has been gutted. The 12 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks that duo accounted for along with their run stuffing ability will be missed since their replacements have significantly less game experience. Figure Notre Dame and their talented offensive line led by future NFL Tackle Ronnie Stanley to exploit that area. The Fighting Irish ground game has been potent this season averaging 5.8 yards per carry and current word is that leading rusher C.J. Prosise may be available for this contest. Prosise has averaged 6.6 ypc this season and #3 RB, true freshman Josh Adams has averaged 7.3 in his place. Add in the running ability of QB DeShone Kizer and Ohio State’s defensive front will be tested.
The losses of Washington & Schutt should also allow Notre Dame to pay more attention to Ohio State’s disruptive DE’s Bosa (16 TFL/5 QB sacks) & Tyquan Lewis (13 TFL/7 QB sacks) in pass protection. If Kizer is allotted extra time to pick out receivers or if Ohio State has to start sending extra players on blitzes to create some pressure, Notre Dame could have a successful day passing. Notre Dame’s offensive balance (215.6 ypg rushing/256.3 ypg passing) has been an assest all season long as has their ability to change tempos. The matchup of Notre Dame WR Will Fuller vs Ohio State CB Eli Apple will be focused on by most but the Fighting Irish have a bevy of other weapons making this the best Ohio State has faced all season long.
Offensively, the way to beat Notre Dame all year has been through the air since their defensive front seven is extremely tough to consistently run on. Ohio State definitely has the tools to attack the Fighting Irish weakness but some end of season turmoil saw them commit to leaning heavily on the running game and RB Ezekiel Elliott. Not real sure that they can defeat this opponent with that strategy and in fact, with all the injuries Notre Dame has incurred in their secondary this season, a game plan that emphasizes the pass could be more productive. WR Michael Thomas is capable of having a real impact here and fellow home run type receivers Jaylen Marshall & Braxton Miller form a trio that can light up Notre Dame’s pass defense. Elliott will have a huge positive effect running the ball if OSU forces Notre Dame to respect the pass.
As of this writing, the line sits at Ohio State -6.5 with a couple of -7’s out there and the total is in the 56.5-57 area. Can’t argue with those who have pushed the total upward off of the 54 opener but there also seems to be some value in the underdog. Notre Dame played #1 ranked Clemson at Clemson and had a shot to win at the end before losing 24-22. They also lost a 38-36 heartbreaker very late in the 4Q at #6 Stanford in their regular season finale. Taking this many points here on a neutral field seems to be a good spot so play here is on Notre Dame. Ideally, you'd want to shop around to find that key number of +7.