WHO: No. 2 Clemson (12-1) vs. No. 3 Ohio State (11-1)
WHAT: The 46th Fiesta Bowl and College Football Playoff Semifinal
WHEN: 7 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
THE SKINNY: A pair of College Football Playoff veterans and two of the elite programs in the sport face off in the desert on New Year’s Eve with eyes on playing more than just one game this postseason.
Clemson enters as ACC champions for the second straight season and looking to finish a task that began 12 months before when they fell just short of the national title at the very same stadium. Leading the way is all-everything quarterback Deshaun Watson, who has struggled a bit with turnovers but has been playing as well as anybody since the team suffered their only loss to Pitt back in early November.
The Heisman finalist is has the benefit of a terrific tailback in Wayne Gallman and gets to throw to one of the deepest groups of receivers in the country. The headliner of those pass catchers is All-American Mike Williams (79 receptions, 10 touchdowns) but the group features plenty of versatility from tight end Jordan Leggett to the underrated Hunter Renfrow. Defensively, the front seven has athletes for days — starting with freshman Dexter Lawrence — backed up by a stingy secondary and the entire unit is coached by the nation’s best assistant coach in Brent Venables.
Looking to get past all that on Saturday night is a talented group of Buckeyes who are looking to make another run at a title in the same fashion that they did two years ago. J.T. Barrett draws all the attention at quarterback and his arm (and maybe more importantly his legs) has been a big reason why the team is even in this position but don’t overlook do-everything star Curtis Samuel on offense either.
Though you would think that an Urban Meyer coached team would be powered by the offense, it’s the OSU defense that has really stepped up in 2016. Unanimous All-American Malik Hooker leads an impressive secondary full of playmakers that have found the end zone almost as many times as their opponents and has plenty of help in the front seven thanks to tackling machines like Raekwon McMillan at linebacker.
It should all make for one compelling — and close — game between two of the nation’s best teams. This is about as even a matchup as they come given the number of elite players and coaches involved and you can bet it will come down to only a handful of key plays. The Tigers have dealt Meyer his only bowl loss while with the Buckeyes and, in the end of this semifinal, they narrowly do again in a thriller.
THE PICK: Clemson 27, Ohio State 20
Illinois head coach Lovie Smith has dismissed three players charged with home invasion and robbery. Offensive linemen Darta Lee and Howard Watkins and tight end Zarrian Holcombe have all been dismissed from the program, according to a statement.
Lee and Holcombe were previously suspended by Smith for violations of team rules. Watkins had also been indefinitely suspended following the initial allegations. All three players claimed the incident that led to the charges was nothing more than an innocent prank, but the authorities and Smith didn’t seem willing to buy that claim.
Each player faces a mandatory prison sentence of 4-15 years on each count against them if found guilty.
Conference USA is in a position where it needs to think outside the box and look to stay ahead of the curve in a changing TV landscape. It appears to be ready to air games on Twitter in 2017.
A report from The Virginian-Pilot says broadcast company STADIUM will air at least 15 football games involving Conference USA teams this fall. STADIUM is the result of a recent merger between the American Sports Network, 120 Sports and Silver Chalice (which also owns Campus Insiders and the online ACC Digital Network). The ASN had owned the broadcast rights to Conference USA games through the end of the 2017-2018 sports season that will carry over to the STADIUM deal (allowing for Conference USA basketball games to be aired on Twitter as well). It was announced earlier this month STADIUM intended to broadcast Conference USA games on Twitter, but it was unknown how many games might make it to the networking service. STADIUM reportedly has an interest in continuing to air Conference USA contests beyond the next athletic season.
Conference USA still has broadcast deals with ESPN and CBS Sports in effect as well, so don’t expect the premiere matchups in the conference to be aired on Twitter. However, by sharing the games online, Conference USA is hoping to reach a wide-spread audience and have the opportunity to be a trending topic. It could work, as Twitter would make sure the game is given a steady feed to allow for a pleasant viewing experience and fan interaction in real time.
Conference USA saw TV revenue take a big hit over the last year. Last summer, Conference USA’s television revenue reportedly dropped to just $2.8 million for the entire conference following realignment changes. Finding a home on a streaming platform now would be key for the conference’s future stability.
It is not at all uncommon for children born in the state of Alabama to be named after Alabama football legends, but it is not every day you see a child of an Alabama coach receives a name inspired by former Alabama football players.
Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt announced the birth of his new son, Flynt Anderson-Foster Pruitt, on Twitter. Alabama fans will likely already know the connection to the new child’s name, as used the last names of two former Alabama football players to create the middle name of Anderson-Foster; Ryan Anderson and Reuben Foster.
Maybe this is more common than I’m aware of, but regardless of how often a coach names a child after former players, this is a testament to the relationship the Pruitt family established with both former Alabama linebackers. And now there will be a bond for years to come between the coach and his family and Anderson and Foster.
Helmet sticker to Al.com.
The Wisconsin Badgers are gearing up for their 100th season playing home football game sin Camp Randall Stadium. As part of the season-long celebration, Wisconsin put some brilliant artistic detail into their season tickets for the 2017 season.
Each ticket to a home Wisconsin game is designed like a retro-style program. These are beautifully done and mimic the style of a program cover from decades past. I’m particularly fond of the program cover for the Purdue game, which features Wisconsin’s Bucky floating in space with a ship with the Purdue logo nearby. Is that a space train? The Band Day program for the game against Florida Atlantic also looks fantastic.
These tickets will surely be must-have collectibles for Wisconsin fans. If Wisconsin wants to make a few extra bucks, then blowing up these images and selling them as posters may be a good decision as well. And I wouldn’t put it past Wisconsin to suit up in a retro-style uniform for at least home game this season in Madison.