Goodyear Cotton Bowl
USC (11-2) vs. Ohio State (11-2)
8:30 p.m. ET Dec. 29, Arlington, Texas (ESPN)
Ohio State -7.5, O/U 65
HOW THEY GOT HERE
USC: The Trojans should have been in the conversation for the final College Football Playoff spot along with Ohio State and Alabama. But they weren’t because of … what? A blowout loss to Notre Dame? That doesn’t make sense. A three-point loss on a Friday night to Washington State? That doesn’t really make sense either.
USC’s problem was that its two best wins came against the same team: Stanford. USC beat the Cardinal 42-24 in Week 2 and then 31-28 in the Pac-12 Championship Game. After that, USC’s best win was probably a 14-point win over Arizona, which was unranked at the time. If Texas or UCLA were better than .500 teams in 2017, USC’s playoff case would have been much, much stronger.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes had a blowout loss of their own and it came to a team far worse than Notre Dame. You know that by now, of course. It’s impossible to be a fan of college football and not know that Ohio State lost to Iowa.
The Buckeyes beat Wisconsin 27-21 in the Big Ten Championship Game, a victory that knocked Wisconsin out of the College Football Playoff. And it wasn’t a convincing enough win to get Ohio State in. Ultimately, the CFP committee felt that Iowa loss was too much of a factor agains the Buckeyes to put OSU over Alabama for the fourth and final spot.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Sam Darnold, USC, QB: Did you think we were going to put any other player here? This could be Darnold’s last college game or he could come back and play his redshirt junior season in 2018. He entered 2017 as the top NFL draft prospect and we’re not so sure he’s ending it there. The title could now belong to UCLA’s Josh Rosen, though with four months to go before the draft it really doesn’t mean much.
Darnold fell from that spot because of a crazy turnover propensity in 2017. He had some fumble problems and threw 12 interceptions. It may be more of a surprise if he doesn’t commit a turnover Friday night than if he does. But Darnold will also have a few — or more — plays that make your jaw drop. Darnold is fantastic when the play breaks down and he has to improvise.
J.T. Barrett, Ohio State, QB: Did you think we were going to put any other player here, either? Barrett should be much healthier than he was for the Big Ten title game, when it was clear that his knee was still bothering him. Which was only natural given he was a week removed from surgery after he was bumped by a cameraman at Michigan.
We know Friday’s game is the final one of Barrett’s college career unless the 12th-year senior (kidding) has another year of eligibility left that we don’t know of.
It’s been a crazy road for Barrett, who was forced into duty as a freshman after a shoulder injury felled Braxton Miller. He then had to watch Ohio State’s national title from the sidelines after suffering an ankle injury vs. Michigan and backup quarterback Cardale Jones tag-teamed with Ezekiel Elliott in the postseason. Jones and Barrett had an awkward timeshare in 2015 and, finally, Barrett has had the starting job all to his own the past two seasons.
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH
Let’s call it the Yellow Rose of Texas Bowl instead of the Cotton Bowl, shall we? After all, this would be the traditional Rose Bowl matchup if the game in Pasadena wasn’t a College Football Playoff semifinal. It was also supposed to be the Fiesta Bowl this season but that would have resulted in a third-straight trip to Phoenix for the Buckeyes.
But here’s why you should watch: Because it should be a great game between two really good offenses. USC RB Ronald Jones averages over six yards a carry while Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins averages 7.5 a pop. Both Barrett and Darnold complete 64 percent of their passes and average over eight yards an attempt. Oh, and it’s a matchup between two of the most recognizable programs in college football. It’s the first time they’ve met in the postseason since 1985 and the first time they’ve played in a bowl game that’s not the Rose Bowl.
WHAT’S ON THE LINE
The last time Ohio State was in the Dallas area it won the national title over Oregon. The last time USC played at AT&T Stadium, it got blown out by Alabama. USC is looking for a second-straight bowl win while Ohio State would like to avoid a repeat of what happened in the Fiesta Bowl a year ago.
Nick: USC 37, Ohio State 31
Sam: Ohio State 34, USC 31
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