COLUMBUS, Ohio — Maybe someday the latest postseason crisis in college football will strike at Ohio State.
Prediction: It’s not going to happen this year with these Buckeyes.
After all the handwringing last season about a couple projected first-round NFL draft picks electing to skip bowl games to protect their future interests, expect that discussion to again pick up steam by the time Ohio State shows up for the Cotton Bowl against USC at the end of the month. Already at Florida State on Tuesday there was a future millionaire who decided that a mid-tier bowl game isn’t worth risking his looming payday, and there will surely be more to come — which is totally fine.
There won’t be an old-school argument made here about the importance of these exhibitions, which have taken another blow in significance thanks to the College Football Playoff. And without diving into too much detail, any amateur players suiting up for coaches who are extremely well compensated shouldn’t feel much remorse if they sit out for the final week of their college careers with a lot of zeroes in their own bank accounts on the line.
Personally, I’m going to respect the decisions of those players who already have put their health on the line many times, no matter what they decide.
But for so many reasons, that just doesn’t seem like it’s going to be an issue for Ohio State.
“That would be wild,” quarterback J.T. Barrett said. “Especially with the people that we have in our locker room. Like, I mean, I don’t know what the people have done in these past couple of years. I don’t know them personally. But I guess the brotherhood and the bond that we have in the Ohio State locker room, I would be very shocked.
“You ever see Coach [Urban] Meyer do that taken aback [look]? It would be one of those, like, smack me across the face. If somebody was like, ‘Yeah, I’m not going to play in the bowl game, Cotton Bowl against USC,’ I think that would be wild.”
That idea certainly isn’t as crazy as it used to be around the country. After Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette helped blaze a new path a year ago, Florida State’s Derwin James followed suit by electing to skip the Independence Bowl — which apparently still exists.
There certainly will be more players who make that business decision in the weeks ahead. Maybe some Buckeyes could join that group, but I doubt it based on what I know about these players.
The brotherhood and bond between these guys is strong and genuine, and it would be hard to imagine them not wanting to play together one last time. Ohio State may not be in the playoff, but it will want to prove to the selection committee that it made a mistake by snubbing it from the four-team field. A matchup against the Pac-12 champion is tantalizing, and there will be conference bragging rights at stake and a huge television audience tuning in to watch what happens at Jerry World.
And, of course, NFL scouts and general managers will have their sights set on a Cotton Bowl Classic that features a pair of programs that have proven to be talent pipelines for the next level. Would any aspiring draft pick want to miss out on the chance to boost his stock in a game that should be played at an elite level?
“I don’t know,” Meyer said. “I remember last year was the first time [it really came up] — and I didn’t study it because I was, like, ‘What’s going on here?’
“Those are all situations that you handle on a case-by-case [basis]. I would hope not, but once again this is all happening real fast. And I think our players are very close and they want to go out to find a way to win this game.”
That’s the expectation here as well.
There are so many reasons to play, starting with the basic fact that the Buckeyes just enjoy doing it. But there are also millions of reasons to think about the other option, and that’s completely understandable, too.
“I don’t see any guys on this team doing that,” linebacker Chris Worley said. “The love for the brother here and brotherhood, that’s real. And another thing about it is you’ve got a bunch of guys that love playing football, love the game, just to be around the game.
“To just think about a guy sort of saying, ‘I’m going to take a step from a game’ … If he’s not legit hurt, then I really doubt that would happen here.”
My money is that it won’t this time.
But I’m also not the one who will be paying the Buckeyes next year.