DALLAS — Can Ohio State football cover the spread against USC on Friday?
The Buckeyes are favored by more than a touchdown on a neutral site after going 11-2 and winning a Big Ten title. Here are three keys for the Cotton Bowl matchup, followed by predictions from our Land of 10 Ohio State writers:
1. Ohio State’s engagement
There has been some speculation that the Buckeyes might be in for a letdown game after missing out on the College Football Playoff. If the interest wasn’t there, the result probably wouldn’t be either. USC isn’t the type of team that opponents can sleepwalk against. But Ohio State players swiftly shot down those thoughts during Cotton Bowl media interviews.
“I think it’s disrespectful. I really do,” center Billy Price said. “That’s why I got offended when someone asked me that just a second ago. ‘Can you get up for this game?’ Are you kidding me? It’s my final game as a fifth-year senior to cap off the 2013 recruiting class legacy, and if you think I’m not going to be excited, jacked up, juiced up, ready to go on that sideline, then don’t come to the game. It doesn’t matter what game it is. We could play on the sidewalk or we could go play in the grass and I’m going to be excited for it and ready for it.
“We’re going to go out there and give everything we’ve got and we expect the same from them. This is a top-tier game against a highly, highly respected opponent. Go out there and have some fun and represent your university.”
2. Battle in the trenches
USC is fifth in the country and first in the Pac-12 in sacks, taking down the opposing quarterback an average of 3.31 times per game. Ohio State is going to have to find a way to keep the Trojans’ pass rushers at bay if the Buckeyes are going to be effective on offense. During the Urban Meyer era, succumbing to opposing defensive lines has been a common trait in many of the Buckeyes’ losses. Based on the numbers and the film, it seems like the Buckeyes will have their work cut out for them.
“They have guys flying all over the place,” Ohio State left tackle Jamarco Jones said. “They’ve got guys in the middle. They bring everything to the table that you want in a defense. I would say they bring some exotic looks. They blitz from all different areas. Sometimes the tail will come in front.
“It’s going to be a challenge going into this game, executing when you don’t really know what’s going to happen, who’s going to be where and things like that. It’s going to definitely be a challenge, but it’s going to be a fun challenge. As an offensive line, we faced quite a few teams this year who have done different things defensively that we hadn’t seen too much before. But throughout the game, good and bad is going to happen. Make sure we focus on the next play and communicate and get focused.”
3. Forcing turnovers
USC doesn’t always take care of the ball. The Trojans rank No. 103 in FBS in turnovers lost, No. 98 in fumbles lost and No. 82 in interceptions thrown. Those are not great numbers. At the same time, Ohio State ranks just 42nd in turnovers gained. In a game between two elite teams, the outcome could be decided by which one forces more turnovers.
Ohio State-USC picks: score predictions
Point spread: Ohio State -7.5
Over/under: 65 points
The Buckeyes are 6-7 against the spread this season, and they have their work cut out for them to cover the spread this week against a strong Trojans team. Nine of the Buckeyes’ 13 games have gone over the point total, which is set at 65 points on Saturday. The Land of 10 Ohio State beat writers are split as to whether the Buckeyes will cover the point spread as well as whether the point total will exceed 65 points.
Ryan Ginn: Ohio State 35, USC 31
Austin Ward: Ohio State 38, USC 24