COLUMBUS, Ohio — At some point there will be a history lesson on the rich tradition of the series between Ohio State and USC, and the current players probably could use it.
Woody Hayes and his first win in the Rose Bowl. Rex Kern polishing off an unbeaten season. Archie Griffin and Pete Johnson running wild against the Trojans.
All of that happened before the guys who will be playing in the Cotton Bowl Classic were even alive, and it’s no wonder that the history between the two programs hasn’t really impacted the way they view the matchup. There is enough on the line without factoring that in, of course, and the Buckeyes aren’t lacking for motivation. The chance to beat another big-name conference champion is enough.
But something like a spread-out, seven-game losing streak to USC that dates back to 1974 for Ohio State? That doesn’t really register for the Buckeyes, some of whom don’t even remember the last regular-season meeting against the Trojans in 2009.
“I do not,” defensive end Sam Hubbard said. “I’ve seen some clips from back when Taylor Mays and them played.”
Those highlights from eight years ago aren’t exactly the kind of grainy footage that showcases the nonconference rivalry at its peak, back when the Rose Bowl was the coveted destination for the champions of both leagues. But it’s perhaps another reminder of how much college football has changed since Ohio State and USC squared off three straight times in that famed venue back in the 1970s.
There is perhaps nobody with a greater appreciation for Ohio State’s history than Urban Meyer, and there will almost certainly be a day or two during preparations for the trip to Texas when he offers some lessons on the past. Certain opponents and traditions always bring that out in Meyer, and USC will be no exception. Plus, it could add a little extra motivation in the process.
But the truth is that the Buckeyes don’t really seem to need it. There is still some lingering disappointment over getting snubbed by the College Football Playoff, but they got the next-best thing in a showcase against the Pac-12 champs.
No, it’s not being played in the Rose Bowl. But all a redshirt junior like Hubbard or Parris Campbell has ever known in his playing career is the playoff format, not heading off to Pasadena as the reward for winning the Big Ten.
And for all the prestige that goes with heading to that gorgeous football cathedral, the Buckeyes aren’t going to complain about a trip to a modern-day palace like AT&T Stadium — a building that’s seemingly always on primetime television and a spot where they won a national title a few years ago.
Is it a little sad that the playoff era has diminished some of the historical significance of a meeting between the Trojans and Buckeyes? Sure.
Does it feel a little weird that this latest version is being played in the Cotton instead of the Rose? Absolutely.
Will that mean either of these teams won’t be doing everything possible to close the season with a meaningful win? Definitely not.
“We still have a game to play, a big-time bowl, Cotton Bowl against a very good team,” Campbell said. “They won their conference as well, so at the end of the day, we have to send our seniors out with a win.
“You know, we’re aware [of the history], just because our coaches make us aware. At the end of the day, I think every guy on this team knows that whenever Ohio State is in a game, it’s a big-time matchup. You’ve got USC, a dominant opponent as well. That’s always going to be a big-time matchup.”
At least in that respect, some things never change.
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