Nothing should deliver quite the entertainment or star-power you get with this year's Fiesta Bowl participants: Clemson and Ohio State.

Clemson's program has taken on Dabo Swinney's enthusiastic demeanor. It is led by the offensive dominance of two-time Heisman Trophy finalist Deshaun Watson and anchored by a defensive front that's as relentless on the field as its leader, defensive coordinator Brent Venables, acts on the sideline during a game -- so aggressive and relentless that the staff has its own "get back guy" just for Venables.

Ohio State's got Urban Meyer, carrying a .854 winning percentage (best among active coaches with 10 years in FBS) and three national title rings -- reloading a program that's gone 61-5 since his arrival in 2012. Though led by veteran record-breaking quarterback J.T. Barrett, Ohio State entered the season with the nation's fewest returning starters (6) and spent much of the year wowing fans with the explosiveness and athleticism throughout the depth chart. While Alabama can squeeze you into a sweet surrender, these two teams are more likely to provide fireworks as they storm the castle of victory.

Players to watch

Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State LB: Barrett is the Big Ten's best quarterback and Curtis Samuel might be the most explosive player in the country, but there is the potential for McMillan to have a greater individual impact on this game. McMillan's versatility in the middle of the defense has allowed him to be on the field early in his career and turn that blue-chip potential into reality, totaling 206 stops over the last two seasons while picking up all-conference and All-American honors.

McMillan turned in one of his best performances as a Buckeyes in the Michigan win, totaling 16 tackles and applying the pressure on Wilton Speight in the back of the end zone prior to Malik Hooker's pick-six. While the Buckeyes' excellent pass defense (top pass efficiency defense in the country) has its hands full with Clemson's receivers, McMillan will be part of the group tasked with keeping Watson from burning them with his legs.

Mike Williams, Clemson WR: Watson blew past Oklahoma and pushed Alabama's defense to the brink a year ago, and that was all without the presence of All-American wide receiver Mike Williams. Williams has been a popular target for Watson against Clemson's toughest opponents, ranking in the top-five nationally for receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns against Power Five competition. His 6-foot-3, 225-pound frame provides a physical advantage that, paired with elite route running and pass catching ability, have made Williams arguably the best receiver in the country this season. If not for a scary neck injury early in 2015, Williams might be playing on Sundays this fall. Instead, he'll hope to be the missing piece to lead Clemson to a title before taking his talents to the next level.


Picking apart the 2016 campaigns for both teams reveals two similarities that will create a fascinating war in the trenches: Both Clemson and Ohio State have worries about the offensive line's ability to establish dominance at the point of attack and both teams also have ferocious, dominant defensive fronts on the other side of the ball. Because Watson and Barrett are skilled, dual-threat quarterbacks with escape ability, any disadvantages have been manageable. I suspect both coaches will try to get the running backs going early, but Mike Weber and Wayne Gallman will run into more defenders than they'll run past and the ball will go into the hands of the quarterbacks to go win the game.

That's where Clemson -- ranked No. 2 in the country with 46 sacks -- can really shine. If Barrett faces third and long in the third or fourth quarter, you'll see Carlos Watkins, Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence and Ben Boulware foaming at the mouth at the line of scrimmage. They'll look like a pack of rabid pass rushers in a race against each other to reach No. 16, and unless the Buckeyes have the right play drawn up, it could end in a mistake or missed opportunity. It's so hard to go against Meyer in one of these big-game spots given his 45-3 record when having more than a week to prepare for the opponent, but one of those three losses came against Dabo, who owns a 1-0 lead in the head-to-head on the sideline. Pick: Clemson +3.5

Fiesta Bowl Expert Picks
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Dennis Dodd
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Jon Solomon
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Jerry Palm
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Tom Fornelli
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Robby Kalland
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Ben Kercheval
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Chip Patterson
Ohio State -3.5