Ohio State football: Which kind of bowl performance will Buckeyes deliver in Cotton?
All week long, our Land of 10 reporters following the Buckeyes will address pressing questions on the minds of the Ohio State fan base with our new daily feature. To ask Austin Ward a question, follow along on Twitter and suggest a topic right here. Check back Monday through Friday as we dive into the Ohio State Question of the Day. Go here to see all of our previous answers.
Is this game more 2014 Orange Bowl or 2016 Fiesta Bowl (the first one) for Ohio State?
— Ben Axelrod (@BenAxelrod) December 27, 2017
First of all, even at a place such as Ohio State, which has such impossibly high standards, it’s impressive how consistently Urban Meyer has had his program in top-shelf bowls when it happens to come up short of the College Football Playoff. And at least in this case, I continue to strongly believe that the Buckeyes should actually be preparing for a semifinal game instead of the Cotton Bowl. That’s also why I believe Ohio State will be motivated and looking to prove a point against USC on Friday night at AT&T Stadium. That would put this more in line with the 44-28 beating the Buckeyes delivered against Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1, 2016.
The 40-35 loss to Clemson in the Orange Bowl four years ago perhaps wasn’t a matter of a lack of excitement for the Buckeyes, even following a loss in the Big Ten title game. The defensive issues that erupted against Clemson that night had been bubbling under the surface for a while. Either way, there have always been whispers about the severity of the injury that ultimately kept Bradley Roby out of that matchup — and in fairness, he has always denied he was trying to protect his draft stock by sitting out. Either way, even with more potential first-round NFL draft picks on this current team, skipping the Cotton Bowl doesn’t remotely look like an option for any Buckeyes.
Similarly, the 2015 Ohio State squad that showed up in the desert to take on Notre Dame had been embarrassed by the upset loss to Michigan State in the only game that truly mattered for its playoff bid. And after crushing Michigan in The Game, it embraced the chance to take on another traditional power on a big stage, sending a message about what it could have accomplished had it been given a shot at a national title by overpowering the Irish. These Trojans are probably going to provide a tougher test, and also felt like they had a legitimate shot at making the playoff after winning the Pac-12, so both sides should know that anything less than their best effort could be a major problem on the scoreboard.
Will that motivation show up when the game kicks off? Obviously that remains to be seen, but at this point it seems more likely that Ohio State will look more like the partying Fiesta version than the one that got squeezed in the Orange.