SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Former Ohio State cornerback Dustin Fox has some fond memories from Arizona.
The 2002 Buckeyes capped off a national championship season with a win over Miami (Fla.) in the Fiesta Bowl. One season later, they returned and beat Kansas State in another Fiesta Bowl matchup. With the Buckeyes back in Arizona, Fox spoke to Land of 10 about his college career and his thoughts on the current crop of Buckeyes.
Q: Do you have fond memories of the games you played in Arizona?
Fox: “We went to the Fiesta Bowl in back-to-back seasons. In the 2002 season it was the championship and in 2003 it was a consolation prize for us when we missed out on making the national championship game. I have great memories from there.”
Q: What do you remember most about the championship game against Miami in the 2002 season?
Fox: “That game, specifically, there was a lot of hype going into the game. There was a lot of talk about how great Miami was and about how we were the big underdog. We had a big chip on our shoulder for that game. That’s probably the best way to put it. We felt like we could play with those guys. Everybody was hyping up how fast those guys were, but we knew we had to be prepared. We were supremely focused and felt like we could play with them. Obviously we did.”
Q: There was a ton of future NFL players in that game. Is that the most talent you ever saw from two teams in a college game?
Fox: “Yeah, I think so. Between both those squads, you probably had 50 guys drafted I bet. Our entire defense featured future draft picks. Every starter in that game on our defense got drafted. There’s probably a handful of guys on offense as well. It’s definitely the most amount of talent in a college game I played in. It was like an NFL game. When you look at all the positions, it was like a who’s who of the NFL Draft.”
Q: What was the impact on the program of that national championship?
Fox: “I think it put the program back on the map. I think it helped the fan base. The program really went through a tough time where the Cooper years were good but they could never beat Michigan. I think it allowed the fans to become confident and maybe even cocky again about the program. It brought back all the good times of the Woody Hayes days. Jim Tressel had a great run at Ohio State. With what they’re doing now, I think they’ll always be competing for national championships from here on out.”
Q: Did Ohio State have a huge crowd advantage in those Fiesta Bowl games?
Fox: “In those games, it was probably 80-percent scarlet and gray in the crowd. Ohio State travels really well. I would expect the exact same thing on Saturday. I expect a ton of Ohio State fans to be there in Glendale.”
Q: What’s it been like to watch the 2014 and 2016 teams develop with young players the way the 2002 team did?
Fox: “It was definitely the same way for us in 2002. People felt like we were a year away and that the 2003 team would be better. There was a ton of talent in that group that was true freshmen that season. I think there’s something to be said for playing as an underdog and doing it when people don’t really expect it to happen. It’s the same way this year. I didn’t have high expectations for this team. I thought they’d lose three games. And yet they’re here. They didn’t win the conference, but they still ended up here in the playoff.”
Q: As a guy who played in the BCS era, are you a fan of the College Football Playoff system?
Fox: “I didn’t have a huge problem with the BCS, but I think it’s better now. You can at least have four teams in. Eventually, it’s going to get to six or eight and continue to get better. Back then you expected who would get in because there wasn’t a committee making the decision. If you were No. 1 all season and continued to win, you most likely weren’t going to get knocked out. You knew what to expect. With this, it’s intriguing as to how they decide the top four. I like it. It makes for great conversation and it’s a lot of fun to debate.”
Q: When you look at these two teams, how do you think Ohio State matches up with Clemson?
Fox: “I have no feel for this game. I’m nervous. Clemson has a great defensive front and a Heisman candidate. I voted for Deshaun Watson in the Heisman. I have a tremendous respect for him and what he brings to the table. Dabo Swinney is a tremendous coach who has already beaten Urban Meyer at Ohio State. I think it’s a coin-flip game and probably a game that a key turnover will help decide. I’m hoping for Ohio State to pull it out.”