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30 Dec 2016

SDA: 2016-17 Bowl Spectacular Part III

by Ian Boyd

Our bowl spectacular continues, and now includes the playoff bowls. Though the semifinals will get the most spotlight and hype, there are some other big time matchups to close out December, including a game that will have a lot of attention from NFL scouts in Michigan's showdown with Florida State. The big games everyone will want to scope out, of course, will be the Alabama vs. Washington and Clemson vs. Ohio State playoff bouts, which will determine who plays for the national championship.

All times are listed as Eastern.

Autozone Liberty Bowl: TCU (even) vs. Georgia -- December 30, 12 p.m. (ESPN)

Both Georgia and TCU were interesting potential contenders in their respective conferences before the year began. New Georgia head coach Kirby Smart was inheriting a defense that had been developed over the previous two years by another Nick Saban acolyte in Jeremy Pruitt, and the big question was how well the offense would do with freshman quarterback Jacob Eason working alongside star running back Nick Chubb.

But the answer to that question was "poorly," while the defense didn't prove as dominant as hoped. Eason predictably struggled against SEC defenses and neither Chubb nor backup Sony Michel could carry the team without better assistance from the passing game or defense.

Overall TCU Georgia
F/+ 48 59
When TCU has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 94 38
S&P+ 41 36
IsoPPP+ 81 19
Rushing S&P+ 50 24
Passing S&P+ 88 28
When Georgia has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 20 90
S&P+ 44 93
IsoPPP+ 33 98
Rushing S&P+ 57 89
Passing S&P+ 24 93

For their own part, the TCU Horned Frogs were also intriguing thanks to the return of several key defenders who had emerged down the stretch in 2015. They had to replace the better part of their offense along the line, at quarterback (where Trevone Boykin had graduated), and at wide receiver (where current pro Josh Doctson had figured so prominently). New quarterback Kenny Hill threw 13 interceptions and was inconsistent all year, and their most dangerous weapon on offense (wide receiver Kavontae Turpin) missed most of the season with a knee injury.

So neither the Bulldogs nor the Horned Frogs were able to put together teams complete enough to win either the Big 12 or the SEC East. For TCU, Hill will be playing to prove that he deserves to be the established starter heading into spring practices for the Frogs. They have some other young signal-callers on campus and a big time freshman coming in the spring that could unseat him if he doesn't prove himself worthy. For Georgia, this game is a chance to get extra practice and experience for the young players they have already settled on as the future of the program. In particular, Eason and freshman tight end Isaac Nauta.

TCU's defense started to play pretty well down the stretch and could be a real challenge for Eason if the Bulldogs can't stay ahead of the chains with their run game. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs secondary and pass-rush will be much better than what this TCU offense is used to facing. You'd expect Georgia's inherent talent advantages to win out in this game, but if the Horned Frogs make more of their bowl practices they could surprise.

S&P+ Outright Pick: TCU

Hyundai Sun Bowl: Stanford vs. North Carolina (-1) -- December 30, 2 p.m. (CBS)

Overall Stanford North Carolina
F/+ 26 25
When Stanford has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 74 90
S&P+ 58 48
IsoPPP+ 42 55
Rushing S&P+ 11 87
Passing S&P+ 92 67
When North Carolina has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 14 35
S&P+ 19 23
IsoPPP+ 23 9
Rushing S&P+ 21 25
Passing S&P+ 30 18

It turns out that the 2015 Stanford offense that was built around running back Christian McCaffrey wasn't necessarily entirely replicable with just anyone surrounding him at quarterback or tight end. The Cardinal really struggled to replace all the lost talent from that offense in 2016. That challenge will intensify in this bowl game, with McCaffrey sitting things out to heal up and prepare for the NFL draft.

Big junior quarterback Keller Chryst took over in the second half of the season for Stanford and they haven't lost since, but McCaffrey was prominently involved with three 30-carry games during that stretch of the season. Stanford will have to rely on backup running back Bryce Love (664 rushing yards) while continuing to develop Chryst in order to exploit North Carolina's rather porous defense in this game.

The Tar Heels were much better off this year, as quarterback Mitch Trubisky was ready to take over for former quarterback Marquise Williams, throwing for 3,468 yards and 28 touchdowns in his first year. He made great use of wide receivers Ryan Switzer (1,027 receiving yards) and big Bug Howard (768 receiving yards). The Tar Heels still have a very strong run game, but the passing game actually improved despite having to replace the starting signal-caller thanks to the strong play of Trubisky.

North Carolina's offensive possessions will be the highlight of this game, as they'll be going up against a very strong Stanford defense. The Cardinal defense has a number of quality players across their linebacker corps and secondary, but the star of the show is defensive tackle Solomon Thomas. The athletic tackle was second on the team in tackles with 55, first in tackles for loss with 13, and first in sacks with seven. The disruption he can cause in the middle of the trenches helped Stanford tremendously on defense this year.

North Carolina has a spread offense that aims to create mismatches outside and burn teams in space, with the interior run game as a constraint if teams start playing conservative pass defense on first down. Stanford won't play that game much, but will match up in man coverage outside and dare the Tar Heels to beat them outside, and to do so before Thomas and company arrive to get the quarterback. The Stanford secondary is good enough to buy some time, so this game probably comes down to whether the Tar Heels can block Thomas and the Cardinal outside linebackers in the pass-rush or not.

S&P+ Outright Pick: Stanford

Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl: South Alabama vs. Air Force (-13.5) -- December 30, 5:30 p.m. (ASN)

Overall South Alabama Air Force
F/+ 87 49
When South Alabama has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 78 40
S&P+ 102 80
IsoPPP+ 102 62
Rushing S&P+ 76 8
Passing S&P+ 103 89
When Air Force has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 81 42
S&P+ 69 52
IsoPPP+ 110 60
Rushing S&P+ 121 51
Passing S&P+ 102 22

South Alabama is probably one of the weakest teams in FBS college football and only finished eighth in the Sun Belt conference... but they have six wins, so here they are. Air Force is quite a bit better -- they were competitive in the Mountain West and thumped fellow service academy and bowl participant Army 31-12 earlier this year. Air Force also finished the year with an impressive victory over Boise State thanks to some stout run defense and a late goal-line stand.

South Alabama has a solid run game with running back Xavier Johnson and then a really spotty passing attack that leans heavily on tight end Gerald Everett (717 receiving yards) as a security blanket for sophomore quarterback Dallas Davis. It's very likely that Air Force will smother the Jaguars' run game and force Davis to beat them throwing the ball.

On the other side of the ball, Air Force has a triple-option running offense typical of a service academy, and South Alabama has a pretty ineffectual defense that's really going to need the extra bowl practices to nail down how to defend it properly. Their plan on offense may be to sling the ball around and pressure Air Force to give up the run and try to throw on standard downs. If it works, this may go poorly for the Falcons but the more likely outcome is that they grind out a win while running the ball for well over 200 yards.

S&P+ Outright Pick: Air Force

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Nebraska vs. Tennessee (-3) -- December 30, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall Nebraska Tennessee
F/+ 47 34
When Nebraska has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 38 66
S&P+ 62 65
IsoPPP+ 58 66
Rushing S&P+ 85 85
Passing S&P+ 28 55
When Tennessee has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 57 27
S&P+ 25 32
IsoPPP+ 50 8
Rushing S&P+ 47 9
Passing S&P+ 42 12

The Tennessee Volunteers had a tumultuous season that included close wins early in the year against teams like Appalachian State, and then their running back leaving the team in November. As it happens, switching out that running back (6-foot-4, 240 pound Jalen Hurd) for 5-foot-9, 212 pound John Kelly actually made their run game more explosive, as Kelly was the more elusive of the two. Increased explosiveness from their run game made Tennessee's zone/power-read schemes more effective and allowed them to score tons of points late in the year.

That growth will be handy for getting after a good but not great Nebraska defense, which generally plays a "bend don't break" strategy and leans on their safeties to cover ground and make tackles against the run game. The Cornhuskers' strength on defense this past year was forcing turnovers, and their secondary produced 16 interceptions, but absorbing blows from the Volunteers' run game could be a tough challenge. Given Nebraska's dislike for selling out to stop the run and Tennessee's own inconsistency throwing the ball, that matchup will probably come down to how well the Cornhuskers defensive line sets up their safeties to make tackles in the run game.

On the other side of the ball, Nebraska has been living or dying based on the play of quarterback Tommy Armstrong, Jr. Against better defenses such as the Iowa Hawkeyes or Ohio State Buckeyes, neither Armstrong nor the Nebraska offense were able to get rolling in blowout losses. Tennessee suffered a ton of injuries over the year at linebacker that held them back from realizing the vision of defensive coordinator Bob Shoop for a sound but blitz-heavy defense. Their defensive ends were still highly disruptive, with Derek Barnett leading the way with 12 sacks.

This is a tough draw for Nebraska, who aren't really built to handle a power-spread run game nor to move the ball against a defense with a really strong pass-rush.

S&P+ Outright Pick: Nebraska

Capital One Orange Bowl: Michigan (-6.5) vs. Florida State -- December 30, 8 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall Michigan Florida State
F/+ 3 13
When Michigan has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 8 46
S&P+ 26 18
IsoPPP+ 27 30
Rushing S&P+ 42 31
Passing S&P+ 14 25
When Florida State has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 7 15
S&P+ 1 6
IsoPPP+ 2 11
Rushing S&P+ 3 6
Passing S&P+ 1 21

This game features perhaps the most future NFL talent of any bowl contest, including the playoff battles that will take place the following day. Michigan has a secondary and defensive line loaded with upperclassmen who will be competing for roster spots on NFL teams next season, while Florida State is led by running back Dalvin Cook, a likely first-round draft choice.

The battle between Michigan's elite defense and a young Florida State offense that can break a game open at any moment is a true heavyweight bout that should be must-see television. Michigan has a better defensive line than the teams that Florida State faced in the ACC, although the Seminoles have gotten a good taste for what this defense will be like from facing Boston College's defenses over the last few years. Current Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown held the same position last year at B.C. when they successfully shut down Cook.

The key, as Brown clearly understood at Boston College, is to control the edges and prevent Cook from bouncing runs outside, where his speed is too great to handle. Michigan will doubtlessly play their All-American defensive back Jabrill Peppers on the edge and try to prevent Cook from finding space on the perimeter. The likely counter from Florida State will be to use lead runs to try and blow holes up the middle of the Wolverine defense for Cook to explode through. The chess match between Michigan's run defense and Florida State's run game will be compelling television.

Florida State's passing game was getting better late in the year with sophomore receiver Auden Tate, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound monster, getting more involved as a big target on the outside. Michigan has arguably the best secondary in the nation, but they don't have any defensive backs big enough to lock down a receiver that big in man coverage without help. If quarterback Deondre Francois can find Tate they could cause problems for the Wolverines, who will already be aiming to dedicate as many defenders as possible to stopping Cook.

On the other side of the ball, Michigan's young quarterback Wilton Speight will need to make another leap of improvement to allow them to get points on the scoreboard against a young Florida State defense that was also improving down the stretch. Speight's targets are some of the best in the country, with wide receiver Amara Darboh and tight end Jake Butt both likely to be in the NFL next season. Speight was learning how to make the most of the surrounding talent in the Michigan offense at the end of the year and will need to make another leap to handle the athleticism of the Florida State defense.

The Seminoles have some truly great defensive linemen in Josh Sweat and DeMarcus Walker ,and despite losing potential All-American safety Derwin James early in the year, they still have a very athletic secondary that was playing better and better ball as the season went along. Starting with this game, Speight is hoping to make a leap for next year, when he will be the main guy for the Michigan offense. In addition to being a showcase of two of the more talented teams in the country, this game is going to feature a lot of matchups between up and coming players who could be major figures in 2017.

S&P+ Outright Pick: Michigan

Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl: LSU (-3.5) vs. Louisville -- December 31, 11 a.m. (ABC)

Overall LSU Louisville
F/+ 6 11
When LSU has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 30 15
S&P+ 24 15
IsoPPP+ 14 49
Rushing S&P+ 5 19
Passing S&P+ 38 66
When Louisville has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 5 11
S&P+ 4 2
IsoPPP+ 3 3
Rushing S&P+ 9 1
Passing S&P+ 3 24

Before the playoff games get started, the Heisman Trophy winner will take the field against the LSU Tigers and their newly established head coach Ed Orgeron. This is a really fun matchup for the simple reason that LSU is loaded with future NFL talent on defense, and now they'll have the chance to prove their worth against college football's greatest challenge: an elite athlete playing quarterback in a spread offense.

Of course LSU and Louisville both also have very good units on the other side of the ball as well. With running back Leonard Fournette sitting things out while preparing for the NFL draft, LSU will turn to Derrius Guice, who brings a similar combination of power and speed in LSU's run game. Guice ran for 1,249 yards at 8.0 yards per carry with 14 rushing touchdowns and simply ran through much of LSU's competition in the SEC. To stop this horrifying run game, Louisville will lean on the ability of their 3-4 defense to keep the ball contained up the middle, and the ability of 6-foot-5, 220-pound safety Josh Harvey-Clemons to patrol the middle of the field and clean things up in the run game.

LSU got fairly good quarterback play this year as well from Danny Etling, who threw for just over 1,900 yards taking occasional shots to the perimeter in the midst of the Tigers' normal pounding between the tackles. Handling LSU's very athletic wide receivers, led by Malachi Dupre, could be challenging for Louisville as they zero in on Guice. If they're lucky, LSU won't have too much interest in trying to beat them that way.

But as we noted, the real crux of this match is between the LSU defense and Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson. The Tigers have all the ingredients you'd want to handle this kind of attack. Up front they have good defensive linemen, headlined by defensive end Arden Key who had 10 sacks. Their linebacker corps is led by middle linebacker Kendall Beckwith, who led the team with 91 tackles and will need to be fast to the edge to keep Lamar Jackson under tabs.

The real star of the show for the Tigers defense is the secondary, which includes multiple cornerbacks who can play press-man coverage and strong safety Jamal Adams, who can cover a lot of ground and tackle in the open field as well as any other safety in the country. The spaces that Lamar Jackson is used to exploiting will shrink quickly with guys like Adams on the field.

All that said, keeping tabs on an athlete like Lamar Jackson when he's allowed to throw the ball down the field to other good athletes is very difficult. LSU will be hoping that playing man coverage will allow them to erase the passing targets and focus everyone else on the task of tackling Jackson. If they can't pull it off, that may suggest that sitting back and playing normal base defense just won't cut it against this Louisville offense.

S&P+ Outright Pick: LSU

Taxslayer Bowl: Georgia Tech (-3.5) vs. Kentucky -- December 31, 11 a.m. (ESPN)

Overall Georgia Tech Kentucky
F/+ 46 68
When Georgia Tech has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 21 82
S&P+ 44 87
IsoPPP+ 13 85
Rushing S&P+ 15 105
Passing S&P+ 11 81
When Kentucky has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 100 47
S&P+ 61 47
IsoPPP+ 89 28
Rushing S&P+ 111 10
Passing S&P+ 85 65

Fresh off their victory over Louisville, Kentucky is coming into their bowl game on a high note. This is the breakthrough season for head coach Mark Stoops, who took over for in 2013 and has just earned his first winning season with the Wildcats. The key was plugging in quarterback Stephen Johnson at quarterback and allowing his dual-threat abilities to unlock their spread offense. They went 7-3 after turning to Johnson in Week 3 against New Mexico State, a game in which he had 361 yards of total offense and threw for three touchdowns.

Running backs Stanley Williams and Benny Snell, Jr., both ran for more than a thousand yards while combining for 20 touchdowns. The Kentucky passing game was pretty solid as well, with Johnson throwing for 1,862 yards at 8.06 yards per pass with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions. The Wildcats' passing game is primarily a way they attack teams for loading up to stop their run game, with max protection and play-action passing a regular component to their offense.

Georgia Tech does not have a particularly good run defense, or a particularly good defense overall. They tend to try to overcome opponents like this by controlling the ball with their own run game. The Georgia Tech run game works like a service academy's, with a triple-option, flexbone offense. Quarterback Justin Thomas hasn't been very explosive in the run game this season, but he has thrown for 10.9 yards per attempt with only two interceptions. He's a third-year starter in his senior campaign playing in his last game, so there will be a lot of motivation for him to make his last game count.

With Georgia serving as an important recruiting ground for Kentucky, this figures to be a competitive game and a fun contrast in "spread to run" vs. "triple-option" tactics for moving the ball on the ground.

S&P+ Outright Pick: Georgia Tech

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl -- College Football Playoff Semifinal: Washington vs. Alabama (-14.5) -- December 31, 3 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall Washington Alabama
F/+ 5 1
When Washington has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 5 1
S&P+ 10 2
IsoPPP+ 4 1
Rushing S&P+ 19 1
Passing S&P+ 3 2
When Alabama has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 3 16
S&P+ 10 16
IsoPPP+ 4 10
Rushing S&P+ 7 4
Passing S&P+ 8 27

Judging by the raw numbers, Washington would appear to be a fair match for the Alabama Crimson Tide, who have been obliterating most of their opponents this season. The main hang-up here is that Washington got one chance this season to prove themselves against a team with elite talent when they played USC on their home field up in Seattle. The result was that they received a whipping and only stayed close due to a pair of interceptions by USC freshman quarterback Sam Darnold.

The Huskies will need a much stronger performance to beat Alabama, but it may start the same way that Washington was able to make their contest with USC remotely competitive. Like the Trojans, the Crimson Tide have a freshman quarterback in Jalen Hurts who could be coaxed into throwing interceptions or making other mistakes should Washington manage to stop the Alabama run game.

That's probably the most important dimension to this game, because Washington probably can't count on scoring many points against the Alabama defense. If they can't keep the Tide's score down, they don't have many paths to victory. Of course, if they can turn over the Tide, then that also creates opportunities for points. The Huskies' blowout victory over Colorado in the Pac-12 title game came largely thanks to three interceptions that led to 13 Washington points.

The Huskies picked off 19 passes over the course of the year and also recovered 14 fumbles, giving them the best turnover margin in the nation. They have a fair shot at holding up against the Alabama defense thanks to a stout defensive front with three different 300-plus-pound tackles and an army of outside linebackers who thrive on the edge in their 3-4, 3-3, or 2-4 packages. The Huskies didn't face many spread-option run games like Alabama's, but extra time to prepare could have them in good shape to execute their defenses against Alabama's attack.

Quarterback Jake Browning was a big part of Washington's favorable turnover margin, but he threw two of his seven interceptions to the USC defense. Another key to Washington improving on their showing against USC and overcoming Alabama is the emergence of backup running back Lavon Coleman. After taking a backseat to Myles Gaskin for most of the year, the 5-foot-11, 228-pound bowling ball got 10 or more carries in each of the last three games and rewarded the Huskies with 5.9 yards per carry and four touchdowns. While Gaskin is more of a slasher, Coleman is more powerful between the tackles and better capable of picking up tough yardage or yards after contact. This is essential against an Alabama defense that doesn't tend to allow runners much space before they have to break tackles from players like linebacker Reuben Foster or safety Ronnie Harrison.

The greater hope for Washington will have to come from their ability to spread out the Tide defense, open up creases with misdirection, and throw the ball to wide receivers like John Ross, who has 1,122 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns on the year. In the past that has been a good way to get after Alabama, but in 2016 they have three big time pass-rushers in Jonathan Allen (defensive end, 8.5 sacks), Ryan Anderson (outside linebacker, 8.0 sacks), and Tim Williams (outside linebacker, 8.5 sacks).

Alabama has multiple future pros on their team, and the role players are generally ultra-talented and excellent within their own niche in the system. They're a tough draw and it's hard to match up against them because any of your weak spots are liable to get exposed by a major talent. Washington struggled to run the ball or protect Browning against USC (the Trojans sacked him five times) and things won't get any easier against Alabama. After their head coach Nick Saban has a month to prepare, it will be hard for the Huskies' normal combination of speed and misdirection to create opportunities against the Tide. Much like when he took down Oklahoma with Boise State, Washington head coach Chris Peterson may need some trick plays to beat the Tide. Perhaps if they can catch the Tide just a few times with their speed, shut down the Alabama run game, and force a few turnovers, then they can pull off the upset.

Watch for:

  • Does Washington play sound defense against Alabama's option run game and force passing downs?
  • How prepared is Jalen Hurts to throw against a secondary with some of the stickiest fingers in the country?
  • Is the Washington offensive line good enough to run the ball on Alabama's defensive front or protect Jake Browning?
  • Does Washington head coach Chris Peterson have any trick plays up his sleeve to help his team gain an edge on Alabama?

S&P+ Outright Pick: Alabama

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl -- College Football Playoff Semifinal: Ohio State (-3) vs. Clemson -- December 31, 7 p.m. (ESPN)

Overall Ohio State Clemson
F/+ 2 4
When Ohio State has the ball Offense Defense
FEI 7 11
S&P+ 12 6
IsoPPP+ 25 16
Rushing S&P+ 2 32
Passing S&P+ 54 4
When Clemson has the ball Defense Offense
FEI 2 10
S&P+ 3 11
IsoPPP+ 6 20
Rushing S&P+ 17 33
Passing S&P+ 5 8

Clemson had a tough road back to the playoffs, going 6-1 (including an overtime win over North Carolina State) in games decided by a touchdown or less while winning the ACC title. Deshaun Watson had a weaker year than in 2015, throwing two more interceptions while currently sitting about 500 yards behind his 1,105-rushing yard a year ago. However, you can expect him to drive that number up now that we're in the playoffs and everything is at stake.

Their defense has been good again, thanks to coordinator Brent Venables, who has turned this unit into a revolving door for talent that is consistently aggressive yet avoids giving up the big play. Clemson will first have to lean on Venables unlocking the Buckeyes' formula for victories this year, which has been to run the ball with their quarterback J.T. Barrett. When Ohio State really needs to move the ball in key moments of the game, they lean on Barrett's legs and opponents have struggled to find answers for his quickness and size in head coach Urban Meyer's clever schemes.

The usual Venables strategy for any offense is to overwhelm and deny the edges and force the ball up the middle where trusted linebacker Ben Boulware and impressive young safety Van Smith are patrolling. To that equation, Clemson has added fantastic defensive tackle play from veteran Carlos Watkins and true freshman Dexter Lawrence, a massive 6-foot-5, 340-pound nose tackle. They have also plugged in new stars at defensive end, headlined by redshirt freshman Clelin Ferrell, who had five sacks this season. The Tigers have a very athletic defense that has shown a few warts here and there, but has usually been a big part of their victories.

Other than running the ball with Barrett, the Buckeyes have also seen improving play from their young offensive line, which has led to young runners Mike Weber and Curtis Samuel breaking out. Samuel in particular was a big factor in their victory over Michigan, with 11 total touches for 86 yards and a touchdown. When he gets loose in space he can change the game in a hurry.

The real headliners in Columbus have been their own defense, who score as many points as their opponents on a disturbingly frequent basis. Their four leading tacklers are their three linebackers and boundary safety Malik Hooker, whose role requires that he be an active participant in the run fits. In other words, the ball rarely gets past the first wave of Buckeye tacklers. Their secondary is also brilliant and picked off 19 passes, with six coming from Hooker (also often in position to rob routes from his boundary safety spot) and four from young cornerback Marshon Lattimore.

Unlike Clemson, who likes to rush the edges and force the ball inside, Ohio State's defense is designed to force the ball outside and wide and then to chase it down with their speed. This is where the game could get really interesting, because the Buckeyes like to bracket the slot with their outside linebackers and safeties, but then play the linebackers very aggressively against any run action. Clemson will use run/pass options that combine routes from the slot receivers with inside runs meant to lure in the linebackers and force the safeties into one-on-one matchups in space against their slot receivers.

Those two slots are 5-foot-11, 180-pound Hunter Renfrow, a shifty slot who gave Alabama fits a year ago, and tight end Jordan Leggett, who's 6-foot-5, 260 pounds and had 637 receiving yards and seven touchdowns this year. They also have speedster Artavis Scott and a pair of big outside receivers in Mike Williams (6-foot-3, 225 pounds, 1,171 yards) and Deon Cain (6-foot-1, 210 pounds, 621 yards). When they can't run the ball, Clemson can still usually count on spreading the field and ripping opponents to shreds on the perimeter with all these big and athletic targets.

So what gives when Ohio State forces them to throw the ball outside? Will the Buckeyes have to sub in more defensive backs or change their tactics to account for Clemson's size and speed out wide?

Clemson will be happy to meet Ohio State in the trenches when the Buckeyes have the ball, but this game could be determined by how well Ohio State handles Clemson's willingness to determine the game out wide when they have the ball.

Watch for:

  • Which quarterback does more damage with his legs? Ohio State signal caller J.T. Barrett or Clemson's lead Deshaun Watson?
  • How will Ohio State respond to Clemson's spread sets and perimeter passing game?
  • Does Clemson come into the game looking to run, or do they immediately go after the Buckeyes out wide on the hashmarks?
  • Which team looks more likely to be able to take on Alabama?

S&P+ Outright Pick: Ohio State


Favorite Spread Underdog S&P+ Pick S&P+ Pick against the spread
Georgia even TCU TCU TCU
Stanford 2.5 North Carolina Stanford North Carolina
Air Force 13.5 South Alabama Air Force Air Force
Tennessee 6 Nebraska Nebraska Nebraska
Michigan 6.5 Florida State Michigan Michigan
LSU 3 Louisville LSU Louisville
Georgia Tech 3.5 Kentucky Georgia Tech Georgia Tech
Alabama 14.5 Washington Alabama Washington
Ohio State 3 Clemson Ohio State Clemson

S&P+ Picks against the spread this year: 35-49

Posted by: Ian Boyd on 30 Dec 2016