Without All-American cornerback Denzel Ward, who made a decision to sit out the game after declaring for the NFL Draft, Ohio State's secondary was expected to be tested against USC quarterback Sam Darnold, especially without their top playmaker in the defensive backfield. Deontay Burnett was the top receiver for the Trojans with 74 receptions, and more than 970 yards and 9 touchdowns.
Just because USC beat a bunch of teams that self-destructed, it doesn't mean the Trojans were better.
Best player: J.T. Barrett.
With 176 yards, however, Barrett would pass Purdue legend Drew Brees and set the Big Ten record for total offense (12,692).
The USC defense must hold up better than it has to date to have a chance Friday night.
Milestone watch: There was a time earlier this season when Barrett was breaking career records every week.
Webb wouldn't stop there either. The Buckeyes would like to send a message that leaving them off the CFP was a huge mistake by beating the Trojans.
There's a wall not far from the locker room dedicated to the 2014 team with mural-sized photos of their trip to AT&T Stadium and the hardware they picked up there. SC QB Sam Darnold threw for 356 yards, but they were mostly empty yards as Darnold was often running for his life as the Buckeye defensive line was in relentless pursuit of a kid some feel may be the No. 1 selection in the 2018 draft if he leaves school.
Barrett is projected to finish with 209 passing yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT, to go along with 76 rushing yards and 1 TD on the ground. According to Bill Landis of Cleveland.com, the Buckeyes are expected to use a run-heavy attack against the Trojans.
Of course, there were times when Darnold showed why he's in consideration for the No. 1 overall pick. "And the big smile on his face at the end of the game said it all". Later he fumbled the ball on a sack, albeit on a play when his offensive line gave him no help at all (a recurring theme on the night). The dual-threat player also toted the rock 150 times for 743 yards and 10 more trips to the back of the end zone.
There's a lot to like about Darnold and what he can do throwing the ball, but the mistakes right now are something that he will need to continue working on.
On defense, USC was middle of the pack this year allowing 26 points and over 400 yards per outing. If he decides to go pro, he'll have a big climb but he won't be blamed either.
The Trojans used the game as a springboard, finishing at No. 3 in the final Associated Press poll, the highest-ever finish for a three-loss team, and Helton said the "momentum" from the win propelled them into the offseason.
That enabled the Buckeyes to get by with Barrett and the offense being just OK, if that.
Sam Darnold entered the Cotton Bowl as the apple of many a Cleveland Browns fan's eyes. He will be the next really good Buckeye defensive back. Meanwhile, the OSU defense laid an egg against the likes of Iowa and Oklahoma, but it has more often than not been able to make teams one-dimensional by nearly completely shutting down the likes of running backs Saquon Barkley (Penn State) and Jonathan Taylor (Wisconsin). That is something for Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott to ponder. Northwestern finished the season with an eight-game winning streak. Utah is the only program to pick up a victory at the moment, and Washington is their last stand for a second.
Per an official release from Ohio State, via Dan Hope of Eleven Warriors, Ward will not return for his senior season next year. Though I was deciding not to participate in the bowl game, I didn't want to leave my teammates and coaches to pursue my dream just yet.