Here we are — it’s the final game of the season, which means it is time for my final five predictions.
If I get these five predictions correct — which I expect to, I believe that will give me a perfect record on the season, which would be the seventh season in a row that I have accomplished the feat. Admittedly, I could be mistaken about that. It may only be six years in a row.
Ohio State comes into the Cotton Bowl as 7.5-point favorites over USC, which sounds about right to my expert opinion on predicting how things should go.
There are significant reasons for both teams to be concerned in this game, but there is also enough talent for each team to be confident that they can do what is necessary to succeed. Ultimately, the team that isn’t lying to itself will win this game.
Until those final seconds tick down and proclaim a winner, however, let me tell you what is going to happen during the game.
1. There will be at least three plays of 34 yards or more that begin behind the line of scrimmage.
Yes, this includes both teams. I was going to go with four here, but I decided to stick with three, which is plenty. I do expect J.K. Dobbins to have one of these plays, and half-expect Mike Weber to have one as well. I also half-expect Parris Campbell to have a screen play that goes for big yards. On the USC side of things, I half-expect Ronald Jones to have a big run. So if you add these expectations up, it comes to 2.5, so by me rounding up, I have actually turned this into a bold prediction. Now that I actually dig into the numbers, however, Jones has only had five carries of 30 yards or more, which is only two more than J.T. Barrett. No worries — I also half-expect J.T. Barrett to have a 37-yard run!
2. Parris Campbell will score.
If USC sticks with their normal defense, Parris Campbell could find himself matched up on a third corner or a safety or even a linebacker with no safety help. That is not going to be the best of situations for the Trojans. I also think that Campbell hasn’t been utilized in the running game enough, and maybe this is one of those opportunities to break tendencies and see what he can give you. Or maybe they’ll just throw deep down the seam to him and he’ll score that way. And yes, a two-point conversion counts as well. Just don’t expect him to be returning kicks.
3. USC will complete multiple passes over 20 yards, but nothing over 39 yards.
The Buckeyes have only given up three receptions of 40 or more yards, which is why I went with the 39-yard threshold. The Ohio State cornerbacks are playing well over the last four games, as is the entire pass defense. The Trojans certainly have the ability to make big plays — they have 10 40-yard receptions on the season, but the OSU corners are the best they’ve seen this season. Where they could have some success, obviously, is against the safeties and linebackers. USC quarterback Sam Darnold could also find some big plays downfield with his escapability. If Denzel Ward doesn’t play, this prediction becomes null and void unless it ends up correct regardless. (All indications from Urban Meyer and teammates is that everybody is playing.)
4. Denzel Ward will have an interception.
Again, if Denzel Ward doesn’t play, this prediction becomes null and void unless it somehow ends up correct as well. I don’t know how it would, unless maybe he’s on the sidelines in a track suit and a wayward pass ends up thrown right to him. That would count. But again, all indications are that he is going to play. When he does play — for reasons that I cannot understand — quarterbacks continue to think it’s a good idea to target him. They will probably do more of the same because Sam Darnold believes he is good enough to throw on anybody, and he probably is. This game could move Ward into the top 10 of the NFL Draft. Or at least mock drafts, which is pretty much just as good.
5. Ohio State will have at least two turnovers.
So I am expecting J.T. Barrett to throw an interception. He has thrown eight in his last five games, so this is a trend that he doesn’t seem to have much control over. USC has six interceptions in their last five games, but they did get shutout in that category in the Pac 12 Championship Game against Stanford. They did force two fumbles against the Cardinal, however. In Ohio State’s five bowl games under Urban Meyer, the Buckeyes have thrown seven interceptions, lost seven fumbles, and had one Tyvis Powell interception overturned because of a Joey Bosa targeting call. For whatever reason, the Buckeyes love turning the ball over in bowl games. And unless they’re playing Clemson, they always get away with it.
Bonus: Johnnie Dixon or Terry McLaurin will score.
Dixon has just one catch in his last four games, but that just means he’s due, right? McLaurin, meanwhile, has four catches in that stretch, so it’s not like he’s on fire either. I just feel like this is a game where one of them makes something happen. (But not enough to make it an official prediction.)
Bonus: Dre’Mont Jones will have at least 1.5 tackles for loss.
I have relegated Stupid Tony to just bonus predictions until he finally gets something right. If Jones does return for 2018, this is going to be the game where he announces his presence to the rest of the nation.
Bonus: Ohio State will rush for at least 234 yards.
Arizona rushed for 234 yards on USC, so I have to believe Ohio State can do that. No, they don’t have a runner at quarterback like Khalil Tate, but they do have plenty of other weapons to turn to. Notre Dame rushed for 377 yards on the Trojans, so that is also a nice marker for the Buckeyes here. If they hit that, then this game will be over early in the third quarter.
Bonus: Marcus Baugh will score.
I don’t know why I think this, I just do. Maybe it’s the California connection.