NEW ORLEANS (WCMH/AP)– Digital Anchor Kristine Varkony speaks with Sugar Bowl CEO Jeff Hundley ahead of Friday’s football game where Ohio State will play Clemson in the first round of the College Football Playoff.
The Buckeyes were picked as the No. 3 seed by the CFP and will face No. 2 Clemson in the Sugar Bowl at 8:00 p.m. on New Year’s Day.
The pairing by the CFP selection committee sets up a rematch of last year’s semifinal in the Fiesta Bowl. Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence bested Justin Fields and the Buckeyes in that one, 29-23. Both quarterbacks, potential Heisman Trophy candidates, will be back for the grudge match in New Orleans.
The playoff committee picked Ohio State (6-0) despite the Big Ten’s pandemic-delayed season and the Buckeyes having three scheduled games wiped out because of outbreaks.
Committee chair Gary Barta said the Buckeyes deserved to be No. 3 because they were undefeated, beat two ranked teams (Indiana and Northwestern) and won the Big Ten championship game over the Wildcats. The Big Ten changed a six-game minimum rule so the Buckeyes could play for the conference title.
Barta, the Iowa athletic director, said “there was no dissension in the room” over putting Ohio State in.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said he wasn’t surprised Ohio State got in with fewer games “because that’s what the committee has demonstrated over the past few weeks. That’s a decision the committee made. We all know Ohio State is an incredibly talented team.”
The loss to Clemson in the playoff last year landed hard and lingered for the Buckeyes, Ohio State coach Ryan Day said on ESPN. The Buckeyes are happy for a chance to avenge it.
“We’re going to have to play our best game of the season, which I’m not sure we’ve quite played yet,” Day said. “There’s just been so many things, so many disruptions that have happened for us this year, but we’re really hoping to get everyone healthy and get everybody in one piece here as we go play this game.”
If the Big Ten reduces the COVID-19 return-to-play timeline from 21 days to 17 days, Day said, “a good amount” of the players who were unavailable for the Big Ten championship game will be able to come back for the Jan. 1 semifinal. Among the missing on Saturday were leading receiver Chris Olave and starting linebacker Baron Browning.