Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Preview for Digital Sports Desk by Gracenote
1. Two of the most successful quarterbacks in the nation will be on display when fifth-ranked Ohio State meets No. 7 USC in the Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Dec. 29. Senior J.T. Barrett has thrown for career highs of 2,939 yards and 35 touchdowns to lead Ohio State while sophomore Sam Darnold boasts 57 scoring strikes in two seasons with the Trojans and is close to going over 7,000 yards passing in his career. The Buckeyes are averaging 42.5 points and USC is at 34.5 – 38.8 during its current five-game win streak.
2. While both teams can beat you through the air, the game may be decided in the trenches by both giving the star quarterbacks time to operate and opening up holes for talented running backs. USC junior running back Ronald Jones II has rushed for 1,486 yards – averaging 162.8 per game during the current win streak – and 18 touchdowns overall to give Darnold support. J.K. Dobbins (10 TDs) set a freshman rushing record for Ohio State with 1,364 yards while Barrett (732) and sophomore Mike Weber (608 yards, 10 TDs) have also had big years on the ground.
3. It will be the 24th matchup between the schools with rich football histories and seven of the previous games were in the Rose Bowl with USC winning four of those. The Trojans have won seven straight meetings, including the last showdown in 2009 when they defeated the Buckeyes 18-15 in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State won the Big Ten title by knocking off Wisconsin 27-21 and USC defeated Stanford 31-28 in the Pac-12 championship game, which in the past would have led to a trip to the Rose Bowl, but the College Football Playoff is using the fabled site in Pasadena, Calif., for one of the two semifinal games this season.
TV: 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN. LINE: Ohio State -7.5
ABOUT USC (11-2, 8-1 Pac-12): Darnold struggled with interceptions early on (six in first three games), but was picked off only twice in the last five contests and threw for 3,787 yards overall. Junior Deontay Burnett has hauled in 74 passes for 975 yards and nine touchdowns, despite catching one pass last time out, while freshman Tyler Vaughns (51 catches, 690 yards, five TDs) and senior Steven Mitchell Jr. (41, 644, four) have also been productive. Linebacker Cameron Smith leads the Trojans defense with 102 tackles and junior lineman Rasheem Green posted five of his nine sacks in his last four games.
ABOUT OHIO STATE (11-2, 8-1 Big Ten): Barrett threw for two touchdowns with a pair of interceptions in the Big Ten title game and completed 64.7 percent of his passes this year while the Buckeyes boast 11 different receivers with a TD catch. Junior Parris Campbell (three TDs) led a balanced receiving corps with 587 yards, sophomore K.J. Hill tops (three TDs) the team with 55 receptions and junior Johnnie Dixon registered a team-best eight touchdown catches. Junior linebacker Jerome Baker leads the team with 67 tackles and sophomore lineman Nick Bosa has made an impact with seven sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss.