Superpower semifinal: Ohio State, Clemson meet in Fiesta
AP College Football Writer
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Clemson coach Dabo Swinney grew up an Alabama fan, when crowning a champion in college football was all about polls and bowls and the best teams often never got a chance to settle it on the field.
“It’d be pretty cool to go back in time and take some of those teams, get the top four, and kind of do the playoff,” Swinney said Friday during the final Fiesta Bowl news conference with Ohio State coach Ryan Day. “And that’s what we have. We have a really cool setup in college football.”
With the College Football Playoff, national champions are now undisputed. More often than not the title game has produced intrigue and thrills. What the playoff has lacked in its first five years is drama on semifinal day. Only two of the 10 semifinals have been one-score games. Average margin: 21 points.
The Fiesta Bowl has a chance to buck the trend. No. 2 Ohio State (13-0) faces Swinney’s third-seeded, defending national champion Tigers (13-0) on tonight in a rare CFP semifinal that feels a like it could be a championship game.
Clemson has won 28 straight games, the nation’s longest current streak. The Tigers are No. 1 in the nation in points allowed and No. 4 in points scored. Ohio State has won 19 straight games, second only to Clemson. The Buckeyes are No. 1 in the nation in scoring and No. 3 in points allowed. The winner advances to the national title game on Jan. 13 in New Orleans to face either No. 1 LSU or No. 4 Oklahoma.
“When you look at the guys on both sides of the ball on both teams, you’ve got a lot of NFL players who will be playing for a long time,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “It will be fun to see those guys playing against each other and competing. But you talk about a collection of power, speed, strength, you kind of look on both sides. It’s there.
“Clemson, they’re strong, they’re powerful, they’re tough. They’re fast. They have speed. We have speed. They 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.