2016 BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl Preview: Notre Dame vs. Ohio State

A preview of the 2016 Fiesta Bowl featuring the Ohio State Buckeyes and Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

The 45th annual BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl features two of college football’s top traditional powers. On New Years Day, the Ohio State Buckeyes and Notre Dame Fighting Irish will battle in sunny Glendale, Ariz.

Ohio State

The Buckeyes saw their College Football Playoff hopes disappear when Michigan State Spartans kicker Michael Geiger hit a 41-yard field goal as time expired in the Horseshoe on Nov. 21. Despite the fact Urban Meyer’s team would no longer hold a top four ranking, the loss to Michigan State may have been the best thing that happened to Ohio State this season. Dealing with adversity is the only way to grow as a team, a notion implied by University of Michigan head football coach Jim Harbaugh as he once referenced a quote from “The Lion King”: “The past can hurt. You can either run from it, or embrace it and learn from it.”

The Buckeyes showed they learned from their lackadaisical performance against Michigan State. The following week, the Ohio State coaching staff granted running back Ezekiel Elliott’s wishes as Elliott carried the ball 30 times for 214 yards and two touchdowns in the Buckeyes’ 42-13 pounding of Michigan in both team’s regular season finale. Ohio State finished the regular season 11-1 and ranked seventh in the final College Football Playoff rankings.

Notre Dame

As for the Fighting Irish, injuries have been the theme of their 2015 campaign. Notre Dame players have fallen like Dominoes, starting with quarterback Malik Zaire, who suffered a broken ankle in the Irish’s second game of the season. Despite an endless sequence of unfortunate events, Notre Dame managed 10 wins this season with one of their two losses coming after a failed two-point conversion attempt against the No. 1 ranked Clemson Tigers. Let’s also not forget Notre Dame’s last second loss to Rose Bowl bound Stanford after the Cardinal converted a game-winning 45-yard field goal against the Irish on Nov. 29. In reality, the Fighting Irish are a two-point conversion and a missed field goal away from a guaranteed berth in the College Football Playoff. However, a meeting with the most talented and possibly best one-loss team in the country, Ohio State, shouldn’t be disappointing. The 2016 Fiesta Bowl will feature loads of NFL talent and should be a high-scoring affair on Jan. 1 in Arizona.

Players to Watch

Notre Dame: Will Fuller

Despite catching passes from a second-string quarterback for much of this season, Will Fuller has cemented himself as one of college football’s elite receivers after posting his second consecutive 1,000-yard season. The quickness Fuller shows after hauling in screen passes is similar to that of Denver Broncos Pro Bowl wideout Demaryius Thomas. Regardless the length of the pass, Fuller is a threat to go the distance on every touch. In addition to his speed after the catch, Fuller has great hands and is able to pull down 50/50 balls on any down and distance. Fuller’s matchup against Buckeyes cornerback Eli Apple should be an intriguing battle to watch.

Ohio State: Jalin Marshall

Honestly, you could probably pick any offensive player from Ohio State and say they’re the one to watch. Marshall has been somewhat of a non-factor for the Buckeyes lately, which isn’t hard to do considering the plethora of talent Ohio State has on the offensive side of the ball. Marshall’s impact on special teams is a big reason the Buckeyes have been set up with a slew of short fields, and the speed he shows on the deep ball is strikingly similar to former Buckeye wideout Devin Smith.

Field position could be a catalyst for success for both teams as Ohio State and Notre Dame each have NFL prospects in their defensive fronts. Short fields could be especially crucial for the Buckeyes given that over the duration of the regular season, Ohio State hadn’t utilized its offensive weapons as effectively as many would have thought following an impressive showing in its opener against Virginia Tech.

Due to the winning tradition of both schools and the abundance of next-level talent that will take the field, Notre Dame vs. Ohio State should be the most watched bowl game other than the two playoff semifinals.

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