Cotton Bowl 2017: Full Preview and Predictions for USC vs. Ohio State

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistDecember 4, 2017

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 02: Running back J.K. Dobbins #2 of the Ohio State Buckeyes runs the ball against linebacker T.J. Edwards #53 of the Wisconsin Badgers in the fourth quarter during the Big Ten Championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 2, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

At the start of Sunday, the No. 5 Ohio State Buckeyes and No. 8 USC Trojans were hoping victories in their respective conference championship games would be enough in the eyes of the College Football Playoff committee to reach the top four. 

The Buckeyes had a much more realistic chance than the Trojans, but they were left on the outside looking in while the Alabama Crimson Tide slid into the No. 4 spot in the rankings. 

In the case of USC, the Trojans were shoved to the side and never considered in the debate for the top four as Pac-12 champion. 

In a normal year in which the Rose Bowl wasn't playing host to a national semifinal, these two teams would be meeting in Pasadena, California, as champions of the Big Ten and Pac-12, but instead they are headed for the Cotton Bowl Classic on December 29.

      

Full Cotton Bowl Preview 

It will admittedly be a bit difficult at first to get used to seeing the champions of the Big Ten and Pac-12 square off in Texas, but we should be treated to a fantastic showdown of collegiate behemoths regardless of location. 

Many Ohio State fans felt slighted that the Buckeyes didn't get into the playoff, and the same sentiment was shared by quarterback J.T. Barrett, per BTN's Brent Yarina: 

The senior signal caller suffered through a knee injury at the back end of the regular season, but that's not going to stop him from playing in the Cotton Bowl, as Ari Wasserman of The Athletic informed us: 

Barrett will be locked in one of the most fascinating quarterback duels of bowl season as he engages in a showdown with Sam Darnold of USC. 

Ohio State's man under center is 61 yards away from the 3,000-yard milestone in the passing department, but that's the last thing he should be concerned with ahead of December 29. Barrett has to be able to limit his turnovers, as he's thrown eight interceptions in his last five games, including two in the Big Ten Championship against Wisconsin. 

Barrett could run into some difficulties throwing over the USC front seven, especially when Uchenna Nwosu is lurking around the line. In addition to his 71 tackles and 7.5 sacks, the senior linebacker is a menace with his reach and is able to deflect passes and turn some of them into takeaways. 

SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 01:  Uchenna Nwosu #42 of the USC Trojans celebrate after Nwosu stopped Cameron Scarlett #22 of the Stanford Cardinal a yard short of the goal line on fourth down during the Pac-12 Football Championship Game at Levi's Stadium on
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Turnovers were an issue for the USC offense at the start of the season, but Darnold has gotten under control in the pocket in the last month, as he's only thrown to the opposing team twice in his last five games. 

Although he's still shown some inconsistencies in his game, Darnold has proved that he is capable of making the big throws in stressful situations. In the fourth quarter of the Pac-12 Championship, Darnold led the Trojans 99 yards in eight plays to distance themselves from Stanford. The drive included a 54-yard connection with Michael Pittman Jr. before Ronald Jones took over in the red zone. 

SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 01:  Sam Darnold #14 of the USC Trojans looks to throw a pass against the Stanford Cardinal during the Pac-12 Football Championship Game at Levi's Stadium on December 1, 2017 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Hen
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Jones, who may be one of the best prospects at running back in the collegiate game, gives the Trojans an extra element on offense that opponents have to prepare for. The junior from McKinney, Texas, has run for 120 or more yards in each of his last five games. 

The Buckeyes have a star running back, too, in J.K. Dobbins, who produced 177 yards on 14 carries to earn the Big Ten Championship MVP and the single-season freshman rushing record at Ohio State. 

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 02:  J.K. Dobbins #2 of the Ohio State Buckeyes runs with the ball against the Wisconsin Badgers in the Big Ten Championship at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 2, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  Ohio State won 27-21.  (Photo by A
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Dobbins will be used alongside Barrett and Mike Weber in a rushing attack that will try to wear down the USC defense and set up more opportunities for Barrett in the passing game. 

As you would expect, the Buckeyes and Trojans have marquee players on both sides of the ball, which will most likely lead to a close game that will either be a duel between Darnold, Barrett and their respective supporting casts, or a defensive struggle. 

Prediction: Ohio State 27, USC 24

Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90

All statistics obtained from ESPN.com

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