WHO: No. 7 Ohio State (11-1) vs. No. 8 Notre Dame (10-2)
WHAT: The 44th BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl
WHERE: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
WHEN: 1:00 PM ET, Jan. 1 on ESPN
THE SKINNY: The defending national champions from Ohio State may have gone 11-1 this season and been left out of the College Football Playoff for a chance to defend their title, but playing in the Fiesta Bowl is something this program has come to embrace over the years. The Buckeyes have a strong history in the Fiesta Bowl. This will mark Ohio State’s seventh trip to the Fiesta Bowl, breaking a tie with Penn State, Arizona State and Nebraska for the most all-time appearances. Ohio State is 4-2 in the Fiesta Bowl, including a 34-20 victory over Notre Dame in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl. The times have changed, but Ohio State still looks like a solid favorite over the Fighting Irish in this year’s Fiesta Bowl pairing.
Ohio State will be looking to send its seniors and a handful of juniors out with a win. Defensive end Joey Bosa and running back Ezekiel Elliott will be playing their final game in a Buckeyes uniform, as well as quarterback Cardale Jones. All three could have an impact on the game, although Jones will be backing up J.T. Barrett. One other player that tends to get overshadowed is Braxton Miller, the quarterback turned wide receiver. It would be fitting if Miller could get a chance to shine for Ohio State one last time considering his history with the program. All that remains to be seen is if Ohio State can put it all together and play to its abilities and potential in the final game of the season, and also avoid a letdown of not playing in the playoff.
On the other side of the field will be a Notre Dame team that has become more athletic in recent years and one that has become faster. This is not the same Notre Dame team Brian Kelly coached to the BCS National Championship before being obliterated by Alabama. This Notre Dame team has grown and evolved from that team. This Irish team has also been one to overcome injury issues and diminishing depth time and time again. Because of all of the injuries to key players on offense and defense this fall, you can argue Kelly had one of his best seasons as a head coach, because Notre Dame pushed both Clemson and Stanford to the limit on the road this season. Those were the only losses Note Dame experienced. No matter how much Notre Dame has been weakened, they seem to battle back.
Freshman quarterback DeShone Kizer will be tested and should be under pressure at times, but Will Fuller should be able to make some big plays down the field. Notre Dame’s big plays may come too few and far between though to beat Ohio State.
THE PREDICTION: Ohio State 38, Notre Dame 23