A bunch of writers batted around five topics on tonight's Orange Bowl with Aaron Brenner of the Charleston Post and Courier. Check out the full roundtable here and my two cents below.
1) What’s the latest on Ohio State’s defensive health, and how essential are those guys to the overall unit?
The latest news for OSU is not great. A Buckeyes defense that struggled enough as it was late in the year could be down three starters. Sophomore defensive end and sacks leader Noah Spence is suspended three games for an unspecified Big Ten rules violation while star cornerback Bradley Roby (knee) is unlikely to play. Those losses will be big. Spence and freshman Joey Bosa form one of the nation’s better edge-rushing tandems while Roby — a fourth-year junior who has already announced his intention to enter the NFL draft — would be assigned to Sammy Watkins. When Roby went down in the Big Ten title game, Michigan State immediately took advantage.
2) How many total yards, give or take, do Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde need to run for to satisfy the Buckeyes’ usual attack?
Ohio State's rushing offense is third nationally (317 yards per game), and that's due almost entirely to Miller and Hyde. About 300 yards between them would be a good night for OSU, and may be what it needs to keep pace with Clemson. Hard to see this one being a defensive battle.
3) Both teams lost their last game. Do you expect to see both teams at their best, and do you make much out of motivation issues for disappointed teams?
I think the motivation factor is real, especially for Ohio State. The Buckeyes had all their eggs in one bowl, and that was the national championship game. Can they be engaged for the Orange Bowl? Who knows? But they are saying the right things and have history on their side. Meyer is 7-1 in bowl games — including Florida’s BCS title-clinching win over Oklahoma in 2008 at the Orange Bowl — while the championship-or-bust mentality we hear so often in college football is mostly a myth. The last six teams that lost a shot at the national title with a defeat in their final regular-season or conference title contest are 5-1 in bowls.
4) What will this result mean for the winner, and what will it mean for the loser?
I think this is big for the perception of both programs. Is Clemson a very good team that pounded overmatched opponents (the Georgia win not included)? Or is it truly one of the nation’s best programs? The same for Ohio State. The Buckeyes’ run of 24 straight wins was remarkable, but Michigan State was the first top-15 opponent they faced during that run. Ohio State’s schedule questions won’t go away next year, but a win over Clemson would help mitigate them. Perception matters, and strange as it sounds, a win over a strong out-of-conference team in a BCS bowl could help a one-loss OSU team get into the four-team playoff next season.
5) Do you have a prediction? What’s your No. 1 key to victory?
Ohio State 42 Clemson 38: If I’m picking just one thing, it’s which team is more engaged. On paper, I think Ohio State is the better team. It's hard to have much confidence in either defense, and I think the Miller-Hyde tandem give the Buckeyes a slight edge on offense. But both teams are coming off losses and have fallen just short of their biggest goals. Which team will show up?