Ohio State and USC will meet for the first time since 2009 in this year’s Cotton Bowl. The Buckeyes have lost seven straight matchups against USC, with their last win coming over 40 years ago in 1974. Here are six players who will make an impact on the 2017 edition of this game:
Sam Darnold, Quarterback
USC’s redshirt sophomore QB is garnering plenty of attention from both opposing coaches and NFL scouts alike.
With just under 3,800 yards on the year, Darnold led the Pac-12 and was 12th in the country in passing yardage. The only team Ohio State played with a more prolific passing attack was Oklahoma, and we all know how that game turned out. He’s careful with the football too. Although he threw 12 interceptions this season, only three of them came in his team’s last seven games. If the Buckeyes lose this game, it’ll likely be because Sam Darnold put up big numbers on Friday night.
J.K. Dobbins, Running Back
Dobbins will look to play a bigger role as a freshman in this year’s bowl game than now-sophomore Mike Weber did in his postseason appearance last season.
Mike Weber, who was last year’s freshman sensation, registered only five carries for 24 yards against Clemson in the College Football Playoff nearly a year ago. Dobbins, however, seems to have earned the trust of the coaches late this season. He carried the ball 62 times in Ohio State’s last four games, while Weber only picked up 36 rushes during that same span. Despite J.T. Barrett obviously being the focal point of the offense, J.K. Dobbins is perhaps the most important player to get going in this game. If he can make his presence felt, chances are the Buckeyes are in good shape.
Rasheem Green, Defensive Tackle
As the USC defense looks to harness the Buckeye ground attack, expect Rasheem Green to play a big role in this game.
The Trojans’ junior DT from Los Angeles leads the team in both tackles for loss and sacks. His nine sacks were good for second in the Pac-12. An effective pass rusher can do a couple things: he’ll force J.T. Barrett to leave the pocket and perhaps force throws downfield (eight interceptions in his last five games). Green will also clog up the running lanes, making it tough on J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber to get loose.
J.T. Barrett, Quarterback
The Ohio State offense lives and dies with J.T. Barrett.
Barrett, who’s playing in his last college football game ever, has a chance to win his 44th game out of 50 with the Scarlet and Gray. His 35 touchdown passes leads the Big Ten by nine and is tied for fifth-most in the country. With 732 yards on the ground this year, he’s second on the team in rushing and can usually make something from nothing when plays break down. If he’s able to throw for 61 yards on Friday, he’ll break the 3,000 yard mark, which hasn’t happened at Ohio State since 1995. Whether he’s making plays on his own or distributing the ball to the playmakers around him, Urban Meyer is going to be riding his senior QB through thick and thin on Friday night.
Deontay Burnett, Receiver
Sam Darnold is a talented quarterback, but it certainly doesn’t hurt that he has a few impact receivers surrounding him.
Junior Deontay Burnett has become Darnold’s favorite target this season, and his numbers back that up. He ranks first in the Pac-12 in receptions, second in touchdowns, and third in receiving yards. At 6-foot-0, 170 pounds, he’s not going to out-muscle anyone, but he’ll certainly run by them. With the athletes featured in Ohio State’s defense, it’ll be a fun matchup to watch.
Nick Bosa, Defensive End
The Buckeyes’ pass rush is going to be on full display against the passing attack of the USC Trojans.
Nick Bosa, who leads the team in both tackles for loss and sacks, will be looking to introduce himself to Sam Darnold early and often on Friday night. He’s registered a sack in each of his last two games, both of which came on big stages against Michigan and Wisconsin. Ohio State’s secondary, which has hauled in five interceptions in their last four games, would be one of the biggest beneficiaries of Nick Bosa wreaking havoc up front–As a turnover here or there could be the difference in this ballgame.