Match-up: Notre Dame (Indp.) vs. Ohio State (Big Ten)
Spread: OSU (-6.5)
Location: University of Phoenix Stadium. Glendale, AZ
When: Friday, January 1st, 1:00 PM
Where to Watch: ESPN
Notre Dame Overview
There were sky high expectations in South Bend this year, with some experts claiming this 2015 Irish team was more talented than the 2012 team that went on to play for the National Championship. Credit to Brian Kelly and his staff, as they have done a tremendous job on the recruiting trail to get Notre Dame back in the national spotlight. Notre Dame certainly had the talent to reach the final four this year, but unfortunate season-ending injuries to as many as seven key starters damaged those hopes. There can certainly be a case made that Notre Dame and Ohio State are two of the most talented team in the country, and there could be as many as seven first-round picks playing in this game. SEVEN. Despite all of the injuries, Brian Kelly’s depth was on display all season long, as his “Next Man In” mantra was pivotal this year. The Irish’s two losses came by a combined four points, with both coming on the road against two top 10 teams, Clemson and Stanford. Regardless of not reaching the playoffs, it was an excellent season for the Fighting Irish. Outside of the college football playoff games, this is the game I’m most looking forward to watching.
Players to Watch
DeShone Kizer (QB): When starter Malik Zaire went down in the second week of the season at Virginia, all Kizer did was throw a game winning touchdown to Will Fuller in the final seconds to prevent the Cavaliers from pulling off the upset. Since that moment, everyone knew who DeShone Kizer was, and he never looked back. Despite having a few bumps in the round along the way, Kizer kept this Irish offense clicking all season long in which it averaged 471 yards per game, good for 25th in the nation. Kizer can beat you with his arm and while not the fastest guy in the world, is a good enough athlete to make people miss in the open field with his feet. Look for Kizer to challenge this very good Ohio State pass defense.
Jaylon Smith (LB): He’s the best linebacker in college football, period. Quite frankly, it isn’t even close. There are other outstanding linebackers around the country, but none have the skill set like Smith. The junior can do everything, from rushing the passer, to playing in space, to covering slot receivers, and being stout against the run. This guy has had an impact in every game he’s been in an Irish uniform since he stepped on campus, and this game will be no different. Look for Smith to be following Ezekiel Elliot all game long. This guy will be a top 10, and possibly top 5 pick this April.
How Notre Dame Can Win
Keep Ohio State’s defense off balanced. The Buckeyes are a top 15 defense statistically in the nation, but from a talent perspective, they are in the top 5. The Irish will have to establish the ground game with C.J. Prosise and Josh Adams to set up the explosive passing plays for Will Fuller, Chris Brown, and Amir Carlisle. Ohio State’s defensive line is as good as anyone out there, but so is Notre Dame’s offensive line. Other than Jaylon Smith vs. Ezekiel Elliott, the Irish offensive line vs. the Ohio State defensive line will be the matchup to watch.
Ohio State Overview
The reigning national champs had a target on their back all season long. After going with Cardale Jones for the first half of the season, Urban Meyer had seen enough and went with reigning Big 10 player of the year J.T. Barrett. Barrett was up and down during the second half of the season, but the Buckeyes offense was more dangerous with him under center. This offense still lives and dies with Ezekiel Elliott, though. In addition, this defense has been outstanding all season long, as they rank in the top 15 in total defense by allowing just 14 ppg. Just a big, strong, and physical defense across the board that will be problematic for Notre Dame in this game.
Players to Watch
Ezekiel Elliot (RB): The junior has already announced his intentions to enter the NFL Draft in April. After rushing for over 1,600 yards and 19 touchdowns. He’s established himself as one of the best players in the nation the past two years, so there’s not much left for Elliott to prove besides capping off his Ohio State career with a bang in the Fiesta Bowl. Elliott going against linebacker Jaylon Smith for Notre Dame will be one of the best individual matchup we’ve seen all year.
Joey Bosa (DE) His sack totals might have been down, but Bosa was still a force each and every game this season. With 16 tackles for loss and 5 sacks, Bosa is a physical specimen that will almost certainly have an impact in this game. Bosa coming off the edge going against All-American left tackle Ronnie Stanley for the Irish will be a battle of two top 10 picks going head to head. One of the many intriguing matchup’s in this game.
How Ohio State Can Win
Run the ball, and play great defense. It was a recipe that worked well for the Buckeyes all season long besides the Michigan State game. This defense is capable of slowing down Notre Dame’s offense. As long as they can run the football effectively and keep Notre Dame’s offense off the field, Ohio State should win this game.
Final Score Prediction: Notre Dame wins 34-31
Photo Credits: http://nflmocks.com/2015/09/26/2016-nfl-draft-tyler-morales-top-ten-players/2/