Looking outside of the CFP final four games the Cotton Bowl may have one of the more intriguing matchups on paper. The USC Trojans will take on the Ohio State Buckeyes in a ranked matchup of two top ten teams. This type of Pac-12/Big-12 game is normally reserved for the Rose Bowl but with the Rose Bowl taking playoff teams and neither of these games quite making the cut it looks like the Rose was moved to Texas.
Ohio State opened up as a -6.5 point favorite over the Trojans and the line has since pushed further toward the Buckeyes and currently sits at -7.5 to -8 at various betting shops. The total is also on the rise after opening at 63.5, the number currently sits primarily at 65. The Cotton Bowl will take place on Friday, December 28th, 2017 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
The Case for the Trojans
An 11-2 season is generally not one to be disappointed by but such is the case to be a USC Trojan fan. The Trojans entered the season ranked #4 in preseason polls and with returning star quarterback Sam Darnold they had visions of playing in the actual Rose Bowl with a lot more on the line. An early season slip up versus Washington State and getting blown out by Notre Dame put those plans on hold and instead, the Trojans settled for winning the Pac-12 for the first time since 2008.
''College football is just hitting on all cylinders right now, so I don't know how much I'd change.''
The Trojans enter the game winners of five straight including a 31-28 victory over Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game. It was the second defeat of Stanford this season but a lack of overall respect for the conference as a whole prevented USC from really being in the championship conversation.
USC often wins games with their offense that averages over 34 ppg. The Trojan offense is led by superstar Sam Darnold. Darnold threw for 3,787 yards with 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He is regarded as one of the top-rated prospects for the upcoming NFL draft. And Darnold has several weapons to throw to with Deontay Burnett, Tyler Vaughns and Michael Pittman Jr all capable of making big plays.
The run game for the Trojans is also significant. Led by Ronald Jones II, who rushed for 1,486 yards this season, the team rushed for over 2,534 yards on the season. That rushing total led him to pass some of the big name Trojans of the past in LenDale White, Reggie Bush and even OJ Simpson as he became the 5th leading rusher in program history.
The Trojans should come out with a chip on their shoulder. They feel disrespected and want to make a statement about their program going forward. Darnold wants to add one more highlight to pro scouts looking at his possibilities of being the #1 pick. Motivation should not be an issue for the Trojans in this one.
Here Come the Buckeyes
Ohio State enters the contest winners of their last four including a 27-21 victory over previously unbeaten Wisconsin in the Big-10 Championship Game. They also enter the game with what may be the biggest chip on their shoulders after being left out of the playoff bracket in favor of the Alabama Crimson Tide despite winning their conference and big wins over highly ranked teams in Penn State and Wisconsin.
Ohio State is led by versatile quarterback J.T. Barrett. Barrett has thrown for 2,939 yards with 35 touchdowns against 9 interceptions. He has also rushed for 732 yards to add to a monster rushing attack led by J.K. Dobbins and his 1,364 yards.
Ohio State will need their top 10 rated defense to at least slow down the Trojans if they are going to win this game. The defense currently ranks #8 overall in total defense for the season. The defensive line is elite and will present issues for USC as they attempt to get a running game going.
When I saw this line release my initial take was while I think Ohio State is the better team I do not think they are better by a touchdown or more. Ohio State gets the victory in their first trip back to Arlington since winning the title versus Oregon in 2015 but USC keeps the game close. USC plus 8 is the play for what should be a fairly entertaining Cotton Bowl.