Notre Dame Fighting Irish (10-2 SU, 8-4 ATS) vs. Ohio State Buckeyes (11-1 SU, 5-7 ATS)
Date/Time: Friday, January 1, 1:00 PM EST
Where: University of Phoenix Stadium
By Mike M., NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: ND +6.5 / OSU -6.5
Over/Under Total: 56
Notre Dame and Ohio State travel to Arizona for a New Years Day Fiesta Bowl showdown of two teams that just missed out on a spot in the BCS playoffs after losing late season games. The Irish and Buckeyes last played against each ten years ago in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl, which Ohio State won 34-20 thanks to a potent offense led by quarterback Troy Smith (who would go on to win the Heisman Trophy the following season) and highlighted by wide receivers Ted Ginn and Santonio Holmes.
One of the games most interesting matchups will be on the sidelines as two of the games best coaches, Urban Meyer for Ohio State and Brian Kelly for Notre Dame, will square off against each other for the first time, not only versus each other but also against the opposing team as Meyer has never coached against the Irish and Kelly as never gone up against the Buckeyes. Both have found bowl success in the past, with Meyer sporting a 8-2 record in postseason games (2-1 at Ohio State) and Kelly earning a mark of 6-3 (3-2 at Notre Dame, including wins in their last two).
Meyer and Ohio State ended there season with a resounding 42-13 win over rival Michigan, extending their record to 11-1 in the last twelve games against the Wolverines. It was a strong response to their no time left on the game clock 14-12 defeat at the hands of Michigan State in the week previous, which handed coach Meyer his first regular season Big 10 loss since he arrived in Columbus back in 2012. Much was made of the lack of use of star running Ezekiel Elliot against the Spartans, as he had just thirteen carries and was held under 100 yards for the only time all season, but the team learned from their mistake and force fed him the ball against Michigan and he stepped up immensely, rushing 30 times for 214 yards and two touchdowns. How Ezekiel does against Notre Dames vaunted front seven will go a long way in deciding the outcome of Fridays game.
Ohio State fans got a brief scare when news came out regarding Elliot being involved in a minor car accident before departing with the team for their bowl game in Arizona. He was cited by police for driving under suspension, driving without a license and failure to control his car after he hit a puddle and lost control of his car before colliding with another vehicle. Word out of Columbus is that Elliot will still play in the bowl game, though unfortunately the same cant be said for his All-American defensive lineman teammate Adolphus Washington, who was suspended for the Fiesta Bowl after being arrested for solicitation of prostitution by an undercover policeman in the beginning on December. Washington will surely be missed by an Ohio State defensive front that will already be without lineman Tommy Schutt due to injury, and will need stars Joey Bosa and Joey Hale to step in their absence to try and shut down the dual-headed Irish backfield of C.J. Prosise and Josh Adams.
The return of Prosise from concussion/ankle injuries will provide a welcome boost to the Irish backfield, though his back-up Josh Adams performed admirably in his absence, running for at least 140 yards per and scoring three touchdowns in the three of the four weeks he started when C.J. was out. This will be their final game with left tackle Ronnie Stanley blocking for him, as the All-American will be off to the NFL draft where is he currently projected be selected as one of the top 10 overall picks. Irish fans are still grateful that star wide receiver Will Fuller decided to stay in school rather than join Stanley in the pros, and he will hope to consider his torrid play in the Fiesta Bowl for what has been a consistently prolific NCAA career. Going into the Ohio State game Fuller has 56 catches for 1,145 yards and thirteen touchdowns on the season and over the last two years has a combined 142 catches for 2,239 yards and 28 touchdowns. This is despite playing with the turnover machine that was Everett Golston last season and a player who was the teams third string quarterback in training camp, DeShone Kizer, as his signal caller for a large majority this year. Kizer has played better than expected since he was thrust into the starting role when Malik Zaire was injured for the season in week two against Virginia, rushing for 499 yards and nine touchdowns while throwing for 2,600 yards with nineteen touchdowns compared to nine interceptions on the season so far. The issues for Kizer are his occasional lapses of judgment in the red zone (five of his nine interceptions have come inside the opponents twenty yard line) and his play against quality opponents (he has just a 5/4 touchdown to interception against teams ranked in the AP Top 25). Going up against a Buckeye defense that ranks second in the country in points allowed will be one of toughest battles Kizer has faced all season and he will need to play sound, poised football if his team has any chance of upsetting Ohio State.
The Notre Dame defense had good news on the injury front as well, with nose tackle Jarron Jones returning to play for the Fiesta Bowl after tearing his MCL before the regular season began. His presence on the Irish defensive line should help to alleviate some of the attention and open things up for their star and leader, linebacker Jaylon Smith, who leads the team with 113 tackles, including nine for loss. Smith is expected to join Ronnie Stanley in the first half of the upcoming NFL draft after his dominant season and will be a welcome addition to whatever team is lucky enough to end up drafting him.
Legendary Notre Dame head coach Ara Parseghian began a bowl tradition of putting the names on the jerseys of players for their postseason game as a sort of reward. This was the only time all season that names were allowed on the jerseys, but the custom was soon eschewed for a full team-first mentality with the mindset that the name on the back of the uniform meant nothing compared to group as whole. This lasted for many years until Charlie Weis wanted to start his own tradition in 2008 for the ever-important Hawaii Bowl and started adding the names again (The bowl win that year was the last highlight of Weis bulbously belligerent failure of a regime in South Bend, and the team finally finished this month the buyout for the horrible atrocious and ill-advised 10-year contract they gave to Weis during his first season with the team in 2005). The jersey story is raised because this years seniors went to coach Brian Kelly after their regular season and said they didnt want their names on the jerseys, that simply its about team. This type of specific rallying mentality has worked well for teams in the past, none more so when the New England Patriots started their Super Bowl tradition against St. Louis in 2002 of being introduced as a team rather than individually and going on to upset the heavily favored Rams, much like what the Irish hope to do against the touchdown favored Buckeyes. Unfortunately for Notre Dame fans the camaraderie may not be enough to take out a strong, well-rounded Ohio State squad that is guided by who many to believe to be the best coach in college football, Urban Meyer. Despite the loss of Adolphus Washington due to the lore of the ladies of the night, the defense is certainly capable of keeping the Irish from lighting up the scoreboard and giving the Buckeye offense led by the aforementioned Ezekiel Elliot and quarterback J.T. Barrett enough time to grind through a still depleted Notre Dame defense and provide the abundance of Ohio State players heading to next years draft a successful sendoff.
Mikes Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Ohio State -6.5
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