After defeating the Wisconsin Badgers to claim the school’s 36th Big Ten Championship, the No. 5 Ohio State University Buckeyes (10-2, 8-1) had a clear goal: College Football Playoff or Bust.
The committee snubbed the Bucks in favor of the eternally contending Alabama Crimson Tide. As a consolation prize the Scarlet and Gray received an invitation to the Cotton Bowl where they will face the Pac-12 champion and No. 8 ranked University of Southern California Trojans (10-2. 8-1). While it may not have the same cache as a semifinal games there is plenty to play for on Friday evening.
Southern Cal leads the all-time series 13-9-1. The Trojans hold a seven-game winning streak including the most recent home-and-home matchups in 2008 and 2009. Ohio State hasn’t defeated their fellow blue-blood program since January 1, 1974 in the Rose Bowl which saw Archie Griffin suiting up for Woody Hayes. The Men of Troy and Bucks have collided seven times in the Rose Bowl with USC holding a 4-3 edge. Friday marks the first time these schools will meet in a non-Pasadena bowl game.
Cotton Bowl History
Ohio State made their lone Cotton Bowl appearance at the end of the 1986 season. The 11th ranked Bucks upset the No. 8 Texas A&M Aggies 28-12. Back then the game was still played at the literal Cotton Bowl and the Aggies were still in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. All-American linebacker Chris Spielman scored a nifty pick-six that day as part of OSU’s strong showing.
Southern Cal played in one other Cotton Bowl – a 55-14 win over Texas Tech in January 1995. So one of these schools will walk away with their second Cotton Bowl triumph before the year is out.
The Trojans opened up the season with four strong wins including a double overtime thriller against Texas. The team fell to Washington State in Pullman before correcting course with wins over Oregon State and Utah. A trip to Notre Dame turned into a 49-14 nightmare that left their playoff prospects in doubt. USC then closed out the season strong with four wins over Arizona State, Arizona, Colorado, and UCLA. The Pac-12 Championship Game brought out No. 12 Stanford and the tenth ranked Trojans gutted out a 31-28 victory. Going into conference championship weekend USC did not receive the chaos it would have needed to crack the top four so they, like their opponent, had to settle for a New Year’s Six bowl game.
The Trojans’ biggest offensive weapon is quarterback Sam Darnold. The Capistrano Beach native has tossed 277-of-435 passing for 3,787 yards, 26 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. He has potential to feature in next season’s Heisman conversation unless he goes pro first. Many scouts suspect that Darnold could go in the top ten, perhaps even first overall. If you like a pro team that has such a pick you may want to pay attention to him. However, the redshirt sophomore still has eligibility remaining and it will be a few weeks before he needs to either declare his intention to turn pro or sign up for classes for next year. Junior Ronald Jones II spears the USC ground attack with 1,486 yards and 18 touchdowns. He averages 6.1 yards per carry and will present quite the threat to the vaunted Silver Bullets defense. The Trojans’ top receiver is Deontay Burnett – a 6′ junior who has 74 receptions, 975 yards, and 9 touchdowns this season. Keep an eye out for cornerback Jack Jones, a sophomore who leads the team with four interceptions.
While he likely won’t step onto the field, I would be remiss to omit blind long-snapper Jake Olson. The walk-on sophomore has an incredible story and regardless of which team you support the young man shows how wonderful team sports can be.
It will no doubt come up during the pre-game show, but there is no point wasting time on Ohio State’s playoff snub. Instead, try to focus on J.T. Barrett’s final collegiate game. He has never played perfectly and more than a few Twitter coaches called for his benching against Oklahoma, but there is no denying that Barrett will go down as one of the finest quarterbacks in Ohio State’s prestigious history. His stats this season:
Passing: 229-of-354 (64.6%), 2,939 yards, 35 touchdowns, 9 interceptions
Rushing: 149 carries, 732 yards, 4.9 average, 10 touchdowns
His career stats:
Passing: 757-of-1193 (63.5%), 9,309 yards, 104 touchdowns, 30 interceptions
Rushing: 641 carries, 3,208 yards, 5.0 average, 41 touchdowns
No matter how the game ends, Barrett deserves a sincere standing ovation in recognition of his exemplary football career.
Playing for Ohio State carries with it the weight of expectation. The entire state expects you to not only contend for, but also win a National Championship every year. While there is no denying the team’s talent, questions remain as to how they would have fared against the Clemson Tigers especially after last season’s white washing. The Cotton Bowl remains a more than valuable consolation prize; hopefully the Buckeyes appreciate that fact and play both hungry and angry in Dallas. It may not be the most relaxing game, but the Bucks should have enough firepower to handle another conference champ under the Texas sky.