Well, it’s here — the final game before we can move on and start talking about the Great Quarterback Competition of 2018.
But let’s not move on too quickly because this year’s Cotton Bowl looks pretty darn interesting. No. 5 Ohio State (11-2) and No. 8 USC (11-2) meet once again in bowl season, which is really never a bad thing.
Vegas currently sees the Buckeyes as 7.5-point favorites, but how do we see them?
Let’s find out.
You can go ahead and count me among the majority of people who see this game as somewhat of a shootout. I do not expect USC to be able to stop Ohio State’s running game, and I don’t see the Buckeyes being able to stop USC’s passing game consistently enough. And I am also expecting Trojans running back Ronald Jones to make a couple of big plays. I think it will be one of those games where you look back and say, ‘Other than those two big runs by Jones, the Buckeyes held him in check.’
There has been more talk from the Ohio State people this week about Jones than quarterback Sam Darnold. Both are very good, but Jones doesn’t have a penchant for throwing interceptions. I wonder how the Buckeye safeties are going to do against the receivers and tight ends, but also having to deal with Darnold’s mobility won’t be easy. I expect USC to hit some big plays, but I believe Ohio State will hit more. This will be a game where the OSU offensive line can be showcased, especially in the running game with J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber. This will also be a big game for the receivers to showcase their blocking abilities.
Ohio State 35, USC 27
This Cotton Bowl matchup features two tradition-rich programs and two of the nation’s top offenses. Both teams are used to scoring, and this USC offense will be a good test for the Buckeyes. But, the Buckeyes will win this game with good defense.
USC leads the all time series with 13 wins, nine losses, and one tie. The trojans have a seven-game winning streak against the Buckeyes, and the last time Ohio State won was the 1974 Rose Bowl. But I don’t think history between USC and Ohio State matters. The last meeting was in 2009…things are very different now and these are completely different teams.
The Buckeyes are the more complete team, and they are very successful in bowl games.
Ohio State 38, USC 24
What do you get two of the five Power 5 conference winners as rewards for a successful season? The Texas Rose Bowl, plus being at home to enjoy watching Michigan in the Outback Bowl since the best teams play on New Year’s Day!
Sam Darnold is trying out for the Browns with the Cotton Bowl matchup, but who are we kidding — we know they won’t be watching because the Buckeyes are playing too. The PAC-12 Champs come in feeling like they should have made it into the playoffs with a stout defense and potent offense.
Ohio State feels the same way, but they currently have a better coach and coaching staff. J.T. Barrett will be playing his last collegiate game in his home state, so don’t think that won’t be an issue for his desire to win. Hand the ball off to Dobbins and let’s start looking forward to the 2018 season.
Ohio State 28, USC 17
Bowl games are difficult to predict given the combination of Whataburger visits, the after Christmas letdown, or just general postseason malaise. Regardless of the excuses, the Buckeyes have an opportunity to end a 43-year drought in beating the Trojans, which is something that would prove to be a cherry on top of a Big Ten Championship season.
The Buckeyes’ defense will need to limit the play-making opportunities of Sam Darnold, particularly when he moves outside the pocket, to keep the scoring down. Couple that with Ronald Jones II and his ability to break things open on the ground and the Trojans appear to be an offensive juggernaut. However, the Buckeyes have the better defense and will likely capitalize on the USC issues along the offensive line to force stops or create a key turnover. I’d like to see Chris Worley with an interception on a quick slant to turn the tide defensively.
The Trojans rank 85th nationally in “Long Scrimmage Plays” but I don’t anticipate J.T. Barrett to throw over the top of their defense like most of their opponents have done this season. Instead, I see Mike Weber and J.K Dobbins ripping long runs on Inside Zone plays en route to over 250 yards rushing on the night.
Mike Weber is named Offensive MVP and Chris Worley is named Defensive MVP as the Buckeyes win the Cotton Bowl and end the drought.
Ohio State 42, USC 31
It’s the end of an era for Ohio State football. Whether you love him or hate him, this is officially the final time we will see J.T. Barrett in a Buckeye uniform. It’s fitting that he gets to finish his career two hours southeast of his hometown. I want nothing more than for J.T. to have his greatest performance of his storied career.
Offensively, the combination of Weber and Dobbins will be too much for the Trojans to handle. This is the type of game which will kick-start the J.K. Dobbins 2018 Heisman train. I conservatively see him rushing for 150 yards and would not be shocked to see him go over 200.
On defense, the defensive backs will make or break this game. I have no doubt the Trojan receivers will get their yards, but I think the DBs will play a solid enough game to help the Buckeyes. I could see Webb and Fuller each getting a pick on a tipped pass or overthrow across the middle.
As far as the outcome goes, I think this is one where OSU uses its depth to run away in the second half.
OSU 45, USC 24
On offense, USC looks to be rolling again. Sam Darnold has shown why he’s considered the best QB in this class. He’s also had some less-than-stellar performances this season. Look for USC to mix up the Silver Bullets and have them guessing if Darnold or RB Ronald Jones will try to beat them. Smart money is on the Men of Troy to try to use Darnold.
On defense, USC is lead by stud LB Cameron Smith. He will be charged with leading the stop of the OSU rushing attack. USC wants to make J.T. beat them through the air, which is the Trojans’ only real chance.
OSU gets revenge, finally seeing USC in a non-home bowl game.
Ohio State 31, USC 24
Picking bowl games is always a frustrating exercise, simply because so much of it comes down to “which team wants to be there and which one doesn’t?”
The 1990 Ohio State Buckeyes should have annihilated Air Force in the Liberty Bowl. They lost. Several recent vintages of Alabama teams mailed in non-championship games against vastly inferior opponents. Just this year, Toledo was a six-point favorite before no-showing the LOLMichigan Bowl against fellow Wolverine-crusher Appalachian State.
On paper, the Buckeyes should win the Cotton Bowl somewhat comfortably. Both teams have strong offenses that should put up points, but while OSU pairs their attack with a stifling defense, USC does not. By both traditional and advanced metrics, the Trojan defense is the weakest unit on the field by a wide margin.
Assuming the Buckeyes remember they have a talented pair of running backs (dramatic, foreboding pause), Ohio State should be able to run the ball. That, in turn should set up the downfield passing game, an area where USC has been particularly vulnerable.
If it ends up close, keep in mind that the Trojans also have a freshman walk-on doing their placekicking. He has missed three of his last seven field goal tries.
If the Buckeyes want to be here, they’ll win.
Ohio State 38, USC 24