It was not that long ago when Ohio State won the first College Football Playoff National Championship, making a run to the title with its third-string quarterback at the helm. The Buckeyes returned to the playoff in 2016 but left with a bad taste in their mouths after being embarrassed in a 31-0 shutout by Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl.
No. 2 Ohio State returns to the Fiesta Bowl for a rematch with No. 3 Clemson, hoping to do just a little bit better this time around. Make no mistake, this is an Ohio State team that's capable of joining the ranks of Alabama and Clemson as two-time College Football Playoff champions. But what makes Ohio State capable of pulling it off? Let's break it down.
1. A well-balanced offense will take you far: LSU quarterback Joe Burrow won the Heisman Trophy leading a revamped offensive attack. The Oklahoma offense has been electric for years now, producing two of the last three Heisman Trophy winners. Clemson has Trevor Lawrence, who many scouts believe will prove to be the best quarterback of them all. Well, guess what? Ohio State's 48.7 points per game in 2019 is more than any of them. In a playoff featuring four of the top offenses in the country, Ohio State's is the best of the bunch.
Justin Fields was a Heisman finalist himself, you know. Fields threw 40 touchdowns and only one interception this season. Go ahead, read that stat again and try to comprehend a ridiculous 40-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio. And Fields didn't do it by dinking and dunking the ball all over the field. His 9.6 yards per attempt ranks sixth nationally, and his 6.52 air yards per attempt ranks second. While they may not be the household names like the receivers of Clemson, LSU and Oklahoma, the Buckeyes have a quartet of explosive playmakers at the receiver position. Chris Olave led the team with 799 yards and 11 touchdowns, but he's not the only big-play threat. There's also Binjimen Victor, who has averaged over 16 yards per reception while reeling in 31 passes. K.J. Hill is the threat underneath, as he's caught 51 passes for 569 yards and 10 touchdowns. Then there's the freshman Garrett Wilson, who could prove to be the best of them all when his college career is finished.
I haven't even mentioned J.K. Dobbins yet, and all he's done so far this season is rush for 1,829 yards and 20 touchdowns. Dobbins is occasionally spelled by freshman Master Teague, who would be starting most places but instead finished with 780 rushing yards as a No. 2 option. And all of these skill players get to play behind an offensive line that ranks third in the nation in Football Outsiders' Line Yards metric. Try outscoring that.
2. Defense can contain the pass, slow opponents down: As impressive as Ohio State's offense has been, what might separate the Buckeyes from the pack is that it has a defense capable of stopping everybody else's elite passing attacks. It all starts up front with Chase Young. Like Fields, the defensive end was a Heisman finalist. That means Ohio State had a Heisman finalist on both offense and defense, which is yet another sign of how dangerous this team is going to be.
Young is a game-wrecker. He leads the nation with 16.5 sacks despite missing two games. No other CFP team has a pass-rusher like Young. Hell, none of the other teams in the playoff have a player with more than seven sacks this season, let alone that come close to Young's tally. Then there's Davon Hamilton, who has five sacks of his own, which would tie for the team lead on LSU.
That disruptive pass rush is complemented by a secondary full of NFL talent. Corner Jeff Okudah gets most of the attention, and deservedly so, but with Damon Arnette and Shaun Wade, Ohio State has a trio of corners capable of hanging with anybody. Add in safeties like Jordan Fuller, and no defense is better equipped to deal with the JaMarr Chases, CeeDee Lambs, Justyn Rosses, and Tee Higginses of the world.
3. Special teams makes up for any gaps that may exist: Listen, the four teams in the College Football Playoff are here for a reason. They are the four best teams in the country, and when you put elite teams up against one another, it's the little things that separate them. And the final thing that separates Ohio State from the pack is its special teams. We're talking about more than just making field goals (though making them helps, just ask Alabama). It's making those kicks, pinning your opponents deep when you punt and having excellent coverage units to help tilt field position.
Ohio State excels in all these areas. Kicker Blake Haubeil has only attempted 12 field goals (after all, OSU scores touchdowns in 82 percent of its trips inside the red zone), but he's made 10 of them. He hasn't missed any of his 83 extra-point attempts. Punter Drue Chrisman is a marksman with his foot, averaging 44.1 yards per punt, routinely pinning opponents inside the 20.
Football Outsider's SFEI metric, which measures all aspects of special teams play, ranks Ohio State as the No. 5 unit in the country. LSU is at No. 21 with Oklahoma just behind at No. 23. Clemson ranks 91st. We often overlook it, but special teams have decided plenty of games, and Ohio State has a clear advantage over its competition in this area.