Notre Dame will get a shot at last year’s national champion, (the) Ohio State Buckeyes, in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Day in Glendale, Ariz.
The Irish didn’t meet their goal of playing in the College Football Playoff, but the consolation prize isn’t so bad. In fact, in most years since the departure of Lou Holtz in 1996, the Fiesta Bowl would be considered a major prize. Just being invited to the bowl would be considered a validation of the entire season.
Thanks to Brian Kelly and the program he has built, those days are gone. Now, after six straight winning seasons and six straight bowl appearances, the mantra is CFP or bust for the Irish. But that doesn’t mean this matchup against another of college football’s storied programs is anything to dismiss.
I wasn’t exactly sure what BattleFrog was, but apparently it is an obstacle race series. It seems like the entire college football season would be a more fitting sponsorship for BattleFrog given the obstacles a team has to overcome to earn a berth in the final four. While the Irish and Buckeyes didn’t cross the finish line, there are still plenty of positives for both of these teams heading into this game.
Both teams have great offensive lines, so I won’t go into that as clearly whichever team controls the line of scrimmage will have a decided advantage. Beyond that, here's a look at each of the main components to Friday's game in the desert:
Notre Dame — Both teams finished last season with a quarterback controversy. The Irish had benched starter Everett Golson in favor of Malik Zaire. Zaire looked like he had the edge following spring practice, so Golson transferred to Florida State. When Zaire went down for the season in the Virginia game, Deshone Kizer came out of nowhere and led Notre Dame to nine more wins (including the Virginia game) and just two losses. He did so by passing for 2,600 yards on 189-of-298 passing with 19 touchdowns and nine interceptions. It’s hard to imagine Zaire having done much better.
Ohio State — During the Buckeyes' championship campaign last season, they lost starting quarterback Braxton Miller, only to see backup J.T. Miller go undefeated the rest of the season before going down with an injury. Cardale Jones stepped in and beat Alabama and Oregon to win the national championship. Urban Meyer was able to hold onto all three quarterbacks, moving Miller to receiver and platooning Jones and Miller. It's a system that has had its ups and downs, with both QBs submitting inconsistent performances throughout the season.
Edge — Push. It’s hard to even imagine a scenario where Notre Dame’s third-string quarterback would be in the conversation with the two championship winning QBs. That being said, those signal callers are not what they were a season ago.
Notre Dame — C.J. Prosise is expected to play in the Fiesta Bowl, which would be a huge boost for the Irish. Josh Adams filled in well during the Stanford game and has rushed for 707 yards and five touchdowns throughout the season, but Prosise carried the Irish most of the season (1032 yards and 11 TDs).
Ohio State — Ezekial Elliot is one of the best players in the country, rushing for 1672 yards and 19 TDs. Ohio State ranked 12th in the nation overall in rushing. We saw what happened when Meyer decided not to give Elliot the ball during the Michigan State game — the Buckeyes' lone loss — so don’t look for him to make that mistake again.
Edge — Ohio State. Elliot got himself into some trouble, but it looks like Ohio State is going to let him play. The Irish will need to key on Elliot if they want to have a chance to win.
Notre Dame — Will Fuller has been an MVP for Notre Dame this season, catching 56 passes for 1032 yards and 13 TDs, including a 75-yard touchdown catch. None was bigger than the last-second score against Virginia, which saved Notre Dame’s season. Chris Brown, Amir Carlisle, Torii Hunter, Jr. and Corey Robinson are all threats that Ohio State will also need to contain.
Ohio State — Michael Thomas leads the way for the Buckeyes with 709 yards on 49 receptions for a 14.5 yard average. Jalin Marshall and Braxton Miller are also deep threats, with long touchdowns of 48 and 54 yards this year respectively.
Edge — Notre Dame. Fuller has a better body of work on the season than Thomas, and Notre Dame’s supporting cast is deeper than Ohio State’s.
Notre Dame — The Notre Dame defense has the talent to be ranked among the best in the country. Unfortunately, Brian Van Gorder’s unit has not always performed as such, ranking only 34th in the nation by giving up an average of 22.4 points per game. Led by potential first-round pick Jaylon Smith, and featuring top performers like Sheldon Day and Joe Schmidt, the Irish defense has a chance to turn some heads against the Buckeyes. However, with the absences of Max Redfield, Devin Butler, and KeiVarae Russell, the Irish secondary is severely depleted.
Ohio State — The Buckeyes ranked second in the country in points allowed, giving up an average of only 14 points per game. Led by potential top pick Joey Bosa, the defensive line will pressure Kizer throughout the game and try to rattle the redshirt freshman. The Buckeyes did give up 24 points to Virginia Tech, 27 to Indiana and 28 to Maryland, so it's not as if this unit is impenetrable.
Edge — Ohio State. If the Buckeye’s can effectively attack the depleted Irish secondary, it could be hard for the Irish offense to keep up.
I can’t in good conscious pick the Irish as my favorite. Instead, I’ll choose to defer and just hope for a good game and for the Irish to defy the odds. A win against an accomplished team like Ohio State would be a great bullet point to put on Brian Kelly’s resume. Here’s hoping for a great game. Go Irish!
Read more at thepremiumpost.com/goldenhomer.
Start your own premium blog at www.thepremiumpost.com.