Who doesn’t love a little dose of cynicism right before New Year’s Eve?
Two teams who began the season as potential playoff contenders are gearing up for a non-New Year’s Day game. The Buckeyes aren’t playing in a January bowl game for the first time since 2004, when they beat Mike Gundy’s Oklahoma State Cowboys in the Alamo Bowl.
Penn State let the USC win 52-49 in the Rose Bowl last season, and return to this postseason in just about the same place they were last season. USC was expected to make a leap into playoff territory with NFL-prospect Sam Darnold and electric running back Ronald Jones.
Instead, the Trojans got dumped on by Notre Dame 49-14, got Mike Leach’d by Washington State and had trouble garnering style points against a mediocre Pac-12 schedule. The Trojans’ two highlights include Darnold possibly cementing himself as a Cleveland Brown (3,687 yards, 26 TDs, 12 INTs) and a Pac-12 Championship game win 31-28 over No. 15 Stanford.
And then there’s the Buckeyes. JT Barrett, who holds every major QB record at OSU, returns to his home-state Texas for the last game of his OSU career and probably of his playing career. OSU’s season will likely fade into anonymity whether they beat USC or lose. They were able to take home a Big 10 Championship win over Wisconsin, but fans will mostly remember how they lost to Oklahoma early in the year and, most of all, Kirk Saban Ferentz and Akrum Wadley completely wrecking the Bucks in Iowa City. That loss also nullified the implications of OSU’s incredible 39-38 comeback over Penn State the previous week.
That said, it appears both teams will be full-go come Friday evening. According to various media outlets in Columbus and Los Angeles, no players plan to sit out in preparation for the NFL Draft. The game will serve as one final audition for NFL hopefuls—both teams have plenty of them—and an ode to the seniors, who will no doubt want to go out on a good note.
As for you and me? Well, it’s a little bit of a different story.
Disclaimer: I am an Ohio State fan and I’m not going to try and guarantee objectivity (not that you should expect that from a news story).
- The game is (almost) meaningless
Listen, I personally can’t wait to drink seven frosty IPAs and watch Ohio State run JT up the middle 20 times for one final time. It’s sentimental. It’s football, damn it, and that’s all we should need. Right?
Think back to 2015. ‘Twas the year after the Buckeyes won the College Football Playoff’s inaugural Championship, and OSU came back and fielded perhaps its strongest team since the turn of the century. That team ended up being plagued by the same what-could-have-been discussions they’re facing now after losing — in one of the more atrocious OSU games I’ve ever watched — to Michigan State 17-14 in Week 12. The Buckeyes went on to beat Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl 44-28 to finish the year 12-1.
That’s not a bad season. Hell, it’s a pretty good one. But how many times have you heard an OSU fan in a bar gloating about that 2015 Fiesta Bowl win? Not many, unless of course you’re talking to a Notre Dame fan. What people remember more is that damn loss to Sparty and how one of the most loaded Buckeye teams ever (Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott, Eli Apple, Taylor Decker, Darron Lee, Michael Thomas) didn’t have a chance to repeat in the playoff.
That’s how I feel about this game. Would it be cool for either team to take home a W? Definitely. It’s always good to win. In the grand scheme of things though, this bowl game is more or less a consolation prize.
Take USC. They finished 10-3 last year, play in an above average conference and had a gunslinger QB. Again, they didn’t have a bad season by any means. A conference championship and 11 wins is nothing to turn your nose at. But, if they don’t get creamed by Washington State, maybe I’m not writing this story. Maybe they squeak in at No. 4 into the playoff. We’ll never know.
That’s what’s so frustrating about this bowl game. When fans see the highlights on TV at some bar on New Year’s Eve, I’m willing to bet the first words that come out of their mouths are, “If only we would have…”
- The Prediction
I didn’t watch any of USC’s games this year. I’m going solely off the Sam Darnold highlights I watched a few minutes ago., but I can tell you this: If Darnold slings and doesn’t get sacked by OSU’s deadly pass-rush rotation, they’re going to be fine.
If everything I’m hearing about the guy is true, he’ll be able to cut OSU’s defense up if he can just stay on his feet. USC must focus on guys like Sam Hubbard, Nick Bosa, Tyquan Lewis, Jalyn Holmes etc. Iowa and Oklahoma have two things in common: their quarterbacks each went nearly untouched. Hawkeyes quarterback Nathan Stanley was sacked once and Baker Mayfield was sacked only twice. The Buckeyes are very thin at defensive back—it’s Denzel Ward (Second Team All-Big Ten) and everyone else.
Granted, I think Ohio State will cause some problems for the Trojans. Say what you want about their ridiculously simple offense, but it works. Especially against Pac-12 teams (See: Oregon 2010, Oregon again in 2014). Even if JT forgets how to throw midgame—which has happened—Urban Meyer and Co. will play Woody Hayes football and pound USC into submission. The Bucks have the 15th best run offense in the country, led in part by freshman JK Dobbins, one of the few backs in OSU history to eclipse 1,000 yards as a freshman. USC is ranked 56th in run defense.
For me, that’s what it comes down to. I doubt OSU’s passing game will be much of a threat. At the end of the day, no one know what the hell will happen in any game, but give me OSU 34-28. On the flipside, give me USC 35-21. Darnold could very well go off, and OSU could very well disappoint in yet another big game.
- The drinking game
If you’re the common fan with no rooting interest, who cares who wins? You’re looking forward to the playoff and melting your liver on New Year’s Day. So, to help you get there a little faster, I propose a drinking game:
Commentators: Bob Wischusen and Brock Huard in the booth, Allison Williams on the sideline
1 drink if…
-it is mentioned that JT is in his home state of Texas playing his final game
-it is mentioned Sam Darnold is an NFL prospect looking to impress NFL teams
-Brock Huard compares something Darnold does to himself when he was a QB
-Either commentator praises the NFL prospects for playing in the game
-If Carson Palmer or Matt Leinart are shown on camera
-Every time Ronald Jones makes a defender miss in the open field
Half a glass if…
-whenever the camera pans to the USC cheerleaders
-it is mentioned the seniors are looking to go out with a win
-Pete Caroll’s name is said
-Urban Meyer’s backstory is brought up (chest pains, Florida, etc.)
A shot of tequila if…
-Ohio State has less than 100 offensive yards at halftime
-Darnold throws an interception/is sacked
-Allison Williams blatantly uses a tired cliché in her “reports”
-JT Barrett has under 30 pass yards at the end of the first quarter
-JT Barrett throws a pick six
-Every time USC increases its lead by 2 or more possessions
The whole bottle if…
-Gus Johnson replaces Brock Huard last second and turns the entire game into a narrative about JT Barrett
-Sam Darnold blows his knee out
-JT Barrett throws for 400 yards
-The Trojan guy on the horse falls off the horse
-JT Barrett has 25+ carries in an OSU loss
(Main photo credit:Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports)