Can Ohio State stop Trevor Lawrence and Clemson this time in Sugar Bowl?

One year later, here they are again — Clemson and Ohio State, Trevor Lawrence vs. Justin Fields, this time in a national semifinal at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans on Jan. 1.

Last year, the two quarterbacks faced off in a Fiesta Bowl national semifinal won by Clemson and Lawrence, 29-23. This year, they enter the College Football Playoff after one of them — No. 2 Clemson (10-1) – played nearly twice as many games as the other — No. 3 Ohio State (6-0).

Did the Buckeyes deserve a playoff berth after their season was shortened this much by the pandemic?

Playoff committee chair Gary Barta explained Sunday why they did.

"Because of their body of work, because of beating two ranked teams and winning the conference championship last night, there was strong supporting consensus for that," Barta said. "But we did talk about, every week, the differences in games."

The roles are reversed in this respect from last year, when Clemson was criticized for not playing enough good teams before the playoff. Tigers coach Dabo Swinney even used this perceived lack of respect for motivation. And it seemed to work. After falling behind 16-0, Lawrence led the Tigers back with a 94-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter to beat the Buckeyes.

The team then celebrated in the locker room afterward with the song “Respect” blaring into the night.

This year, the Tigers are favored to win after crushing No. 4 Notre Dame on Saturday night, 34-10. The win avenged Clemson’s only loss this year – a 47-40 double-overtime defeat at Notre Dame on Nov. 7

Clemson might be better than last year despite losing several top stars, including top receiver Justyn Ross, who underwent season-ending surgery in June to repair a congenital fusion in his spine.  

OPINION: CFP semifinals aren't surprising, and that's a problem, writes Dan Wolken

HIGHS AND LOWS: Winners and losers from CFP final rankings

MAJOR MISTAKE: Pac-12 bungled and cheapened its title game

ALABAMA QB: Mac Jones tells Tim Tebow he was his role model

The Buckeyes couldn’t stop Lawrence in the end last year. Can they this year? Lawrence leads a juggernaut that ranks fourth nationally in scoring (44.9 points per game), slightly more than Ohio State, which ranks eighth at 42.5.

“It’s been incredible,” Swinney said on the ESPN selection show Sunday. “To me that even further emphasizes the greatness of Trevor Lawrence.”

The NFL’s New York Jets have noticed and likely will take a keen interest in this matchup. They might have the top pick in the NFL draft next year, when Lawrence and Fields are expected to be among the top players selected.  

Fields apparently sprained the thumb on his right throwing hand in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s 22-10 win against Northwestern in the Big Ten championship. He completed 12 of 27 passes for 114 yards with two interceptions. He said the thumb was “killing me” after he hurt it.

“Hopefully we have a good amount of time so I can get it recovered and heal it up,” Fields said Saturday.

Clemson last played in the Superdome in New Orleans in January, when the Tigers lost to LSU in the national championship game, 42-25. That was the only game Lawrence has lost at Clemson, and his record as a starter is 34-1. He didn’t play in the Tigers’ previous loss against Notre Dame after testing positive for COVID-19.

If he beats Ohio State, he would be playing in this third straight national championship game.

Follow USA TODAY Sports colleges reporter Brent Schrotenboer @Schrotenboer. E-mail: