Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic Preview
Dec. 22, 2017

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Big Ten Champion and fifth-ranked Ohio State (11-2, 8-1 B1G) will battle Pac-12 Champion and No. 8 USC (11-2, 8-1 Pac-12) in the 82nd Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic on Friday, Dec. 29 in Arlington, Texas. The game is set for an 8:30 p.m. ET kickoff at AT&T Stadium, with television coverage provided by ESPN.

The Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic will play host to two conference champions for the first time since 1987 when Ohio State defeated Texas A&M, the Southwest Conference Champion, 28-12. 

The game matches teams with storied gridiron traditions.  Both rank in the Top 10 nationally in all-time victories (897 for Ohio State, 834 for USC).  USC has won 11 national championships and Ohio State has eight.  Ohio State has produced seven Heisman Trophy winners and the Trojans have six.  Ohio State boasts 196 All-America first teamers, while USC claims 166.  USC has made 51 bowl appearances (with 34 wins), while Ohio State has 47 (22 wins). 

The Buckeyes will be playing in their 48th bowl game and for the first time in the Cotton Bowl since the 1987 matchup against A&M. Ohio State is 22-25 all-time in bowl games and has won three of its last four contests. This will mark the fourth consecutive year the Buckeyes will be playing in a New Year's Six game, posting previous wins in the Sugar Bowl, CFP National Championship Game and Fiesta Bowl. Head coach Urban Meyer is 10-3 in his career in bowl games, including a 3-2 mark at Ohio State.

USC is one of the nation's premier bowl teams, with an overall postseason record of 34-17. Last year, the Trojans defeated Penn State in the Rose Bowl, 52-49, on a last-second field goal. USC, which played all of its 12 regular season games in 2017 without a bye, was the first South Division representative to win the Pac-12 Championship Game when it defeated Stanford, 31-28. Head coach Clay Helton is a finalist for the Paul "Bear" Bryant Coach of the Year Award. The 2017 AP Pac-12 Coach of the Year is the first USC head coach to have 10-win seasons in each of his first two full seasons and he has more wins (21) in his first two full seasons than any USC coach.

The Trojans hold a 13-9-1 advantage in the all-time series against Ohio State with the first matchup coming in 1937, a 13-12 USC victory. Southern Cal also took the most recent matchup, a 18-15 win at the beginning of the 2009 season. USC has won the last seven meetings dating back to the 1975 Rose Bowl. Ohio State and USC also have a good deal of bowl history: the Buckeyes and Trojans have played seven times previously, all in Pasadena at the Rose Bowl. OSU has won three of those seven games.





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Ohio State’s offense is fifth nationally in scoring (42.5), sixth in total yards (523.6), 15th in rushing (249.4) and 28th in passing (274.2), which also rates third-best in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes are fifth in the country on third-down (48.6) and ninth on fourth-down (70.0) conversions. Senior first-team All-American center Billy Price, who also captured the Rimington Trophy and the Big Ten's Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year award, anchors the OSU line that has allowed the Buckeyes to become the only team in the country to have more than 3,000 rushing and 3,000 passing yards. Quarterback J.T. Barrett has thrown for 2,939 yards with 35 TDs to rank eighth nationally in passing efficiency and he has run for another 732 yards with 10 scores this year.  He owns 35 Ohio State and Big Ten records, including Big Ten marks for touchdowns responsible for (145) and touchdown passes (104). Freshman running back J.K. Dobbins, the Big Ten Championship Game Most Valuable Player, has 1,364 rushing yards (7.5 per carry) with seven TDs on the year.  Junior wide receiver Parris Campbell and sophomore K.J. Hill are Ohio State's top pass catchers. Campbell hauled in 587 yards on 39 catches for three touchdowns, while Hill had 55 receptions for 546 yards and 3 TDs.

USC is fifth in the Pac-12 against the rush (158.3) and in scoring defense (26.3), sixth in total yards allowed (404.8), and ninth in defending the pass (246.5). The Trojans lead the nation with 43 sacks and boast 24 takeaways, the 16th-most in the nation. They also rate sixth nationally with 3.31 sacks per game and own the country’s fourth-best defensive unit within the red zone, allowing the opposition points just 70 percent of the time. The opportunistic defense has scored on three occasions this year, which ranks 17th-best in the country. Troy is led by inside linebacker Cameron Smith, who leads the team in tackles (102) for the second year in a row. Outside linebacker Uchenna Nwosu netted 13 deflections in 2017, the most by a Trojan linebacker since 1998. Other top defenders include lineman Rasheem Green, who ranks second in the Pac-12 with nine sacks, followed by Christi Rector and Nwosu with 7.5 sacks each. Josh Fatu is tied for 11th in the Pac-12 with six sacks on the season.

USC’s offense ranks second in the Pac-12 in total yards (489.5), third in passing (294.6), and fourth in rushing (194.9) and scoring (34.5). The Trojans ’ total yardage mark, which also ranks 15th nationally, is their highest average since 2005. Troy has put forth 600-plus yards of total offense three times this season, while the other Pac-12 teams combined have done so just six times. Quarterback Sam Darnold is 20-3 as a starter and is on the verge of becoming the first USC quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards in a season. He enters the bowl game at 3,787 yards, of which he has acquired from 277-of-435 passing (63.7 percent) with 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He ranks third in the Pac-12 with 291.3 passing yards per game. Running back Ronald Jones II ranks in the top 10 nationally in several rushing categories, including fifth in touchdowns (18), eighth in yardage (1,486), and average (123.8). Jones II, who is fifth on USC’s career rushing list (3,555), has rushed for nine 100-yard games this season. Darnold’s primary target is wideout Deontay Burnett, who is just 25 yards shy of 1,000 receiving yards on the year. His nine receiving touchdowns rank second in the Pac-12, while his 975 yards are third, and his 5.7 yards per reception and 75.0 yards per game rate fifth. Fellow wideout Michael Pittman Jr. set a Pac 12 championship game record with 146 receiving yards against Stanford.

Ohio State’s defense is eighth nationally in total yards allowed (292.3) and against the run (108.8), 18th against the pass (183.5), and 21st in scoring (19.9). Throughout the season, the Buckeyes defense faced standout tailbacks and allowed only Iowa’s Akrum Wadley to eclipse 100 yards (20 carries, 118 yards) in a game. USC’s Jones will be looking for his 10th 100-yard game. OSU, however, has been stout on both sides of the ball all year long. In fact, the Buckeyes are the only squad to rank in the top 10 in both total offense and total defense. OSU ranks 12th nationally in tackles for loss per game (7.7) and 19th in sacks per game (2.85), while excelling in the passing efficiency defense (111.75) and third-down conversion percentage defense (32.1), ranking 16th and 17th in the country, respectively. Sophomore lineman Nick Bosa anchors the OSU defense with seven sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss, which rank tied for second and fourth in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes’ pass rush is expected to play an integral role as USC QB Darnold is more of a pocket passer than a scrambler. Other top defenders include junior linebacker Jerome Baker (team-best 67 tackles), sophomore safety Jordan Fuller (60 tackles), senior safety Damon Webb (56 tackles, four interceptions), junior defensive back Denzel Ward (15 pass break-ups, two interceptions), and sophomore tackle Jashon Cornell (two recovered fumbles).

On special teams, Ohio State has been impressive on kickoff returns, ranking 19th nationally with 24.21 yards per return, as well as 13th in kickoff return defense, allowing 17.53 yards on each return. The Buckeyes pace the Big Ten and rank 11th nationally in net punting (41.43), but have struggled at times on punt returns (5.69) and punt return defense (10.40), which have them 96th and 101st nationally. Senior kicker Sean Nuernberger has made 16-of-20 field goals this year, ranking fifth in the Big Ten at an 80 percent clip. USC ranks 18th nationally in punt returns (11.95) and 22nd in kickoff returns (23.51), but 93rd in punt return defense (10.00) and 112th in kickoff return defense (24.08), which makes one wonder if a key return on special teams will determine the outcome of the game. Velus Jones ranks first in the Pac-12 and 15th nationally with 26.2 yards per kickoff return, while Jalen Greene and wide receiver Pittman both have punt return touchdowns on the year. Kicker Chase McGrath has hit 12 of 16 field goals during his freshman campaign.