Picking the Cotton Bowl: Favorable matchup for the Buckeyes

Welcome to the Cotton Bowl portion of the Action Network’s 2017-18 College Football Bowl Preview. Make sure you subscribe to our Degen and Juice podcast for even more in-depth bowl previews through New Year’s Day.

This preview integrates a combination of point spreads, advanced statistics, motivational angles and coaching changes. You can follow all of my plays for free on the SportsAction App through the [App Store] or [Google Play].

All lines taken from Pinnacle as of Dec. 27.

Cotton Bowl

Teams: Ohio State vs. USC
Location: Arlington, Texas
Date:  December 29th, 8:30 PM EST

Current CW S&P+ Total
Ohio State -7.5 Ohio State -8 Ohio State -12 64.5


Notes: Two Power Five conference champions who did not make the College Football Playoff will visit AT&T Stadium for the biggest non-playoff game of the postseason. USC most recently defeated Stanford to win the Pac-12. Tough scheduling and injuries played a role in the Trojans’ two losses, as they played Washington State on a back-to-back road trip on a short week, and Notre Dame on the road sandwiched between conference games. Both opponents also have top-20 Rushing S&P+ defenses.

The CFP selection committee penalized Ohio State for the Buckeyes’ loss to Iowa, but the Cotton Bowl certainly benefits from hosting two marquee conference champions. Both sides have plenty of motivation, as each team wants to prove it deserved a playoff spot. From a coaching standpoint, Clay Helton seeks another New Year’s Six victory over the Big Ten champion, and Urban Meyer looks to avoid losing consecutive bowl games for the first time in his career. Meyer will try to quiet the naysayers that keep harping on double-digit losses to Iowa and Oklahoma.

From an advanced stats perspective, the Ohio State rush offense immediately stands out against the USC defensive front:

Ohio State Offense USC Defense
Rushing Success Rate 1st 91st
Opportunity Rate 3rd 104th
Stuff Rate 2nd 112th

Although Ohio State should run with ease on USC, they will still feature a quick-strike offense, ranking 15th in adjusted pace and 93rd in time of possession. USC will not have the same kind of success running the ball. In previous CW9 betting preview articles in which we sided with USC, we focused on Ronald Jones II moving the chains and eating clock. The Trojans will not have that luxury on offense in this matchup, with Ohio State ranking first in Rush S&P+ Defense, first in opportunity rate and 15th in stuff rate. Those metrics suggest Ronald Jones II will have his toughest day of the entire season, even in the Texas native’s homecoming.

USC defeated Khalil Tate and Bryce Love (twice) by utilizing an effective ground attack to keep both explosive players off of the field. However, Ronald Jones II couldn’t carry the load when the Trojans faced the excellent rush defenses of Washington State and Notre Dame. As a result, Sam Darnold made critical mistakes through the air on a few forced throws. I expect more of the same against the Buckeyes.

In regards to the total, the over should get strong consideration here. Ohio State ranks 15th in the nation in adjusted pace, and Darnold will have to throw on standard downs if the running game gets neutralized like I anticipate. USC ranks 130th (last in the country) in passing downs run rate at 24.6 percent, while Ohio State ranks 122nd at 27.9 percent. In other words, both teams rarely ever run the ball on passing downs, which will help the over. If the fast pace and the pass tendencies don’t convince you to invest in the over, then consider both Ohio State and USC rank in the bottom 10 in penalty yards, 121st and 122nd, respectively. This game has shootout written all over it.

Ultimately, Ohio State’s defense will force USC’s offense into a one-dimensional passing attack, leading to a Buckeye victory in the Cotton Bowl.

Useless Trends

  • Overs are 8-2 in Ohio State’s last 10 games
  • Overs are 5-2 in USC’s last seven games
  • USC is 3-8 ATS in its last 11 games

The Pick: Over 64.5, Ohio State -7.5

Be part of the Action

Download the Sports Action app at the [App Store] or [Google Play].