USC vs. Ohio State, Cotton Bowl: Predictions, expert picks, betting line, odds

What do you do if the Rose Bowl is reserved for the College Football Playoff and neither the Big Ten or Pac-12 made the cut? Well, you just move the Rose Bowl to Texas, of course. That’s essentially what’s happening in this year’s Cotton Bowl as the Big Ten champion Ohio State Buckeyes take on the Pac-12 champion USC Trojans at JerryWorld in Arlington. And we are here for it because it’s two of the most historic programs in college football history. It might not be a playoff game, but it feels like one.

Viewing information

Date: Friday, December 29 | Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
Location: AT&T Stadium — Arlington, Texas 
TV: ESPN | Live stream:Watch ESPNWatch ESPN apps

Storylines

No. 5 Ohio State: The Buckeyes could consider this Cotton Bowl berth to be a disappointment. After all, they won the Big Ten yet weren’t selected for the CFP. Still, if you aren’t going to be in the playoff, there are worse things that can happen to you than a Cotton Bowl appearance against USC. If you can’t win a national title, at least you can get a shot at ending your seven-game losing streak against the Trojans (Ohio State hasn’t beaten USC since the 1974 Rose Bowl).

No. 8 USC: The Trojans may have missed out on the CFP, but it’s already been a successful year for the Trojans. They won their first Pac-12 title since 2008, and a decade is too long a time for a program such as USC to go without a conference title. While quarterback Sam Darnold receives most of the attention due to the draft hype surrounding him — and there’s a good chance he’ll be returning to school — the engine of the USC offense is running back Ronald Jones, who has rushed for 1,486 yards and 18 touchdowns this season.

Prediction

Ohio State’s an outstanding football team, but when the spread for this game was first released, my initial impression was that even if the Buckeyes are better than the Trojans overall, there’s no way they’re more than a touchdown better. I still feel that way. I won’t be surprised at all if Ohio State wins this game — in fact, I expect it to — but it won’t win comfortably. Pick: USC +7.5

So what side do you need to be all over in the Cotton Bowl? Visit SportsLine now to get a strong pick for USC vs. Ohio State from data scientist Stephen Oh, who’s on a 33-23 run in college football picks. 

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