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Friday’s bowl previews: Ohio State versus USC feels like a playoff matchup

UPDATED: Thu., Dec. 28, 2017

Southern California head coach Clay Helton, left, and Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer shake hands and pose for photos after a news conference for the Cotton Bowl NCAA college football game in Dallas, Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017. (LM Otero / Associated Press)
Southern California head coach Clay Helton, left, and Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer shake hands and pose for photos after a news conference for the Cotton Bowl NCAA college football game in Dallas, Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017. (LM Otero / Associated Press)
Associated Press

ARLINGTON, Texas – Coach Urban Meyer could have easily stoked a debate about expanding the four-team College Football Playoff after his Buckeyes were the first team left out this season.

Instead, he focused – as much as he could – on the Cotton Bowl matchup Friday night against Southern California, another conference champion.

“We’re on the outside looking in twice. We’re in the playoff twice, and twice we’re right on the edge of not being in it. If they extended the playoff … but I don’t see that happening,” Meyer said Thursday. “College football is just hitting on all cylinders right now, so I don’t know how much I’d change.”

The Big Ten-winning Buckeyes won the first championship in the four-team CFP era three years ago. That game was at AT&T Stadium, where Ohio State (11-2) returns Friday night to play Pac-12 champion and No. 8 Southern California (11-2) in the second Cotton Bowl for both teams.

USC coach Clay Helton mostly agreed with Meyer after initially deferring to Ohio State’s coach with CFP experience to first answer the question posed about if it was time to consider an eight-team playoff.

“The playoff system has been great for our game,” Helton said. “You’re talking about two teams that were in that controversy and in that discussion right down to the end, and have the ability to have this game against two really premier teams in the country. That’s what you focus on.”

Had the Rose Bowl not been a CFP semifinal this season, the Trojans and Buckeyes almost certainly would have been spending this week in Pasadena, California. The Rose Bowl traditionally hosts the Big Ten and Pac-12 champions, but this year will host Oklahoma and Georgia for a bid in the Jan. 8 title game.

Instead, the two powerhouse programs with more than 1,700 wins combined meet in another traditional bowl. The Cotton Bowl is being played for the 82nd time, the ninth since moving from its namesake stadium to the home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys.

This is the eighth time Ohio State and USC have played in a bowl game. The first seven were all in the Rose Bowl, the last coming 33 years ago.

“This is just a classic, classic matchup on every level,” Helton said, mentioning the schools, teams and bands. “I think it’s great for college football for this to be able to happen and to happen right here in the Cotton Bowl.”

Belk Bowl

Texas A&M (7-5) vs. Wake Forest (7-5), at Charlotte, North Carolina, 10 a.m. (ESPN) Line: Wake Forest by 2 1/2. Series: First meeting.

The Demon Deacons look to send senior quarterback John Wolford out with a victory and earn their second straight bowl win. Texas A&M will start a new era next season under new coach Jimbo Fisher. In the meantime, interim coach Jeff Banks will coach the team after Kevin Sumlin was fired on Nov. 26 after six seasons at the helm. Sumlin was 51-26 as head coach.

Sun Bowl

N.C. State (8-4) vs. Arizona State (7-5), at El Paso, Texas, noon (CBS) Line: N.C. State by 7. Series: Tied 1-1.

N.C. State seeks its ninth win, the second-best total in school history, in its fourth straight bowl trip under Dave Doeren, who has six postseason trips in seven seasons as a head coach. Arizona State wants to send coach Todd Graham out on a winning note after he was replaced by former NFL coach Herm Edwards, who will have a unique role that resembles that of a pro general manager.

Music City Bowl

Northwestern (9-3) vs. Kentucky (7-5), at Nashville, Tennessee, 1:30 p.m. (ESPN). Line: Northwestern by 7 1/2. Series: Northwestern leads 1-0.

Northwestern can win back-to-back bowl games in consecutive seasons for the first time in program history. The Wildcats can also notch a 27th win for their senior class and finish with 10 wins for the third time in six seasons. Kentucky can win an eighth game in a season for the first time since 2007. A win also would give the Wildcats a winning bowl record as a program.

Arizona Bowl

New Mexico State (6-6) vs. Utah State (6-6), at Tucson, Arizona, 2:30 p.m. (CBS Sports). Line: Utah State by 4. Series: Utah State leads 30-7.

New Mexico State is looking to get a postseason victory after earning its first bowl appearance in 57 years, ending the longest bowl drought in NCAA history. Utah State wants to cap a turnaround season with a win after being picked to finish last in the Mountain West Conference.

Cotton Bowl

Southern California (11-2) vs. Ohio State (11-2), at Arlington, Texas, 5:30 p.m. (ESPN). Line: Ohio State by 7 1/2. Series: USC leads 13-9-1.

Playoff-snubbed Ohio State takes on USC in a throwback to Rose Bowls past. This is the eighth postseason meeting between the Buckeyes and Trojans and the first seven were all in the Rose Bowl, the last one 33 years ago. The Big Ten champion Buckeyes haven’t lost more than two games in any of their six seasons under coach Urban Meyer. Pac-12 champion USC is trying to reach 12 wins for the first time since 2008.

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