Ohio State Buckeyes vs. USC Trojans: Cotton Bowl Game Preview

Ohio State and USC will meet on Friday night in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic.  Both teams won their respective conference championships yet were the odd ones out when it came time to select the four College Football Playoff teams due to each having lost two regular season games.  Here’s a preview of the matchup:


Game Details


Friday, December 29 at 8:30 PM ET on ESPN at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas



What to Watch For


Two top-12 offenses go head-to-head.

This year’s Cotton Bowl features a couple of the better offenses in the country.  Ohio State ranks sixth in yards per game and USC ranks 12th.  Each unit has their own strengths, with the Buckeyes tending to favor the run while the Trojans tend to air it out.  On paper, Ohio State figures to see a little less resistance against USC’s 77th ranked defense compared to USC’s matchup with the Buckeyes’ 8th ranked D.


Sam Darnold goes up against Ohio State’s top-20 pass defense.

Largely considered one of the top NFL prospects in college football, Darnold faces a tough test on Friday night.  The only passing defense that USC’s faced that’s better than the one Ohio State features is Washington State’s eighth ranked secondary.  In that game, the Trojans put up one of their lowest point totals and picked up one of their two losses on the season.  A good performance against Ohio State could boost Darnold’s stock even higher to move him up draft boards at the next level.


Both teams had reasonable cases to make the College Football Playoff.

Both Ohio State and USC were two-loss conference champions who had playoff aspirations all year long.  Only once the final four teams were selected did these two teams realize their playoff hopes were gone.  That leaves any one of four possibilities for this year’s Cotton Bowl:

  1. Both teams come out strong, looking to prove a point.
  2. Both teams come out flat and sluggish, down on their postseason fate.
  3. Ohio State has all the juice and routs USC, who doesn’t show up.
  4. USC dominates as the Buckeyes, who perform poorly after just missing out on the playoffs.

We’ll have to wait and see which one of these scenario’s plays out on Friday night.



Player Who is an X-Factor


Johnnie Dixon

Junior receiver Johnnie Dixon leads the Buckeyes in touchdown receptions with eight, but hasn’t hauled one in over his team’s last four games.  Six of Dixon’s 18 receptions this season have have been 30 or more yards.  USC ranks 112th in the nation after allowing 25 passes of 30+ yards this year.  In nice, climate-controlled conditions, watch for J.T. Barrett to try to find Johnnie Dixon behind the Trojan defense in this contest.



The Spread


Ohio State by 7.5





This year’s Cotton Bowl is arguably one of the better matchups of the bowl season.  One of Ohio State’s perceived weaknesses before the season started was their secondary after they had a few impact players move on to the National Football League.  Guys like Damon Arnette, Denzel Ward, Damon Webb, and Kendall Sheffield have stepped up to make the OSU pass defense one to not be taken lightly.  While Sam Darnold can get the ball out effectively to his playmaking receivers, Ohio State’s athletes in the secondary will be up for the test.  USC will make things interesting, but the Bucks will come out on top.


Buckeyes win 34-30.

Written by

Born and raised in Columbus, Ohio. Graduated from The Ohio State University with a degree in Aerospace Engineering. Avid Ohio sports fan with 15+ years dominating fantasy baseball. Began as a contributor to the Clutch Sports Blog in 2011, now the lead baseball writer for The6i4.com.

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