For the past four years, Clemson's opponents have hoped that a relatively soft ACC schedule would leave them ill prepared for postseason play. And in that time, the Tigers have gone 5-2 in College Football Playoff games, winning two titles.
This season, Clemson's schedule is again suspect as they only faced two teams in the top 40 of scoring offense (No. 38 Wake Forest being the highest ranked) and two teams in the top 50 of scoring defense (No. 35 Texas A&M being the highest ranked in that category). Their FBS foes had a combined record of 72-74.
What does that mean for their game against 13-0 Ohio State?
The Buckeyes should find out early tonight. The Tigers have outscored opponents 170-17 in the first quarter of games, and they have won the last 50 games in which they have scored first.
They are explosive, partly because they are balanced. Although the bulk of the media attention has gone to quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who has yet to lose as a starter, and his deep corp of wide receivers, Clemson is averaging more than 250 yards passing and 250 yards rushing per game.
Running back Travis Etienne leads the nation in yards per carry (8.24), and is the ACC's all-time leader in career rushing touchdowns.
The offensive line features four seniors. The only non-senior is Ohio native Jackson Carman, who is a sophomore left tackle. All five were named All-ACC players.
The team's defensive line was hurt by the fact that they lost four players to the NFL in the offseason, so it's true that Ohio State has faced opponents this year that are more successful getting to the quarterback.
However, the Tigers have found other ways to make opposing signal callers miserable, and no FBS squad has held their opponents to a lower passer rating than they have. Defensive back Tanner Muse is tied for No. 17 nationally with four interceptions.
The anchor for Clemson on that side of the ball, though, is Butkus Award winner Isaiah Simmons. The linebacker has 93 tackles, 14.0 tackles for loss, 7.0 sacks, 7 pass breakups, 2 picks, and a forced fumble.
If there is one area Ohio State might hope to exploit, it's on special teams. Although kicker B.T. Potter has two 51-yard field goals this year, he is just 12/19 overall. And the Tigers are ranked 93rd in punt return defense.
Ohio State and Clemson play at 8:00 p.m. at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.
Other Clemson nuggets:
- Ohio State is 0-3 against Clemson, making the Tigers one of just seven teams that is unbeaten against the Buckeyes in two or more games against OSU. The others are Auburn, Princeton (1-1-0), Cornell, Florida, South Carolina (2-0), and Florida State (3-0).
- There are 11 players on Clemson's roster who saw playing time in the Tigers last game against the Buckeyes, the 2016 Fiesta Bowl, which Clemson won 31-0.
- That being said, Clemson is still a fairly young team with 80 freshmen and sophomores.
- The Tigers have beaten their opponents this year by an average of 35.9 points per game, which would break their old school record of 35.3 points.
- Clemson is attempting to become the first back-to-back champion in the College Football Playoff era.
- Lawrence is one pass attempt away from breaking his own school record of pass attempts without throwing an interception (169). The last time he threw a pick was October 19 against Louisville.