In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think.
Cotton roses: Outside of playing in a College Football Playoff semi-final, the No. 8 Pac-12 champion USC Trojans (11-2) and No. 5 Big Ten champion Ohio State Buckeyes (11-2) meeting Dec. 29 in the 82nd Goodyear Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas (7:30 CT/AT&T Stadium) provides a supercharged traditional Pac-12 vs Big Ten confrontation. The reunion between the two legendary programs with history will fire-up the massive fan bases of both universities, and it’s really an electric Rose Bowl disguised as the Cotton Bowl minus the New Year’s Day parade.
Pasadena in Dallas: Although the Rose Bowl is politically excited to be part of a CFP semi-final game that features No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 3 Georgia, there are certainly a lot of Tournament of Roses officials that are probably lamenting quite deeply that the Pac-12 champion Trojans and the Big 10 champion Ohio State are playing in the greater Dallas area. Count me as one of those followers who wishes this upcoming game was being played on New Year’s Day in Pasadena. Anybody out there with the negotiation skills to make a trade between the Rose and Cotton Bowls? That being said, playing Ohio State anywhere for a bowl game is not a bad consolation prize. And you have to admit, a game inside AT&T Stadium, home of the Cowboys and Jerry’s World, is pretty cool.
Series history: The Trojans currently lead the Buckeyes series 13-9-1 with the most recent meeting in 2009, a heart-stopping Trojans’ 18-15 win at Ohio State. Or have you forgotten “The Drive” at the end of the game by a freshman quarterback named Matt Barkley?
The giveaway: Before the official announcement of the Trojans and the Buckeyes in the Cotton Bowl, ESPN was interviewing Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer about his disappointment regarding not getting into the CFP playoffs. Meyers let the cat out of the bag by saying, “USC had a job to do and won their championship, and we had a job to do (win the Big Ten championship) in Indianapolis and we did it.” Why would he bring up USC minutes before the official announcement if he didn’t know who his team was playing?
The buildup: Regarding USC and Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl, College Football Playoff Committee Chairman Kirby Hocutt said, “The Cotton Bowl and the folks in Dallas do such a great job. It’s as good a hospitality experience that a team can have, and AT&T Stadium is one of the best venues. It will be a great experience for Ohio State and Southern California in the Cotton Bowl.”
Herbie speaks: On USC facing Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl, ESPN lead analyst Kirk Herbstreit said, “I don’t care if you put these two teams in the Bluebonnet Bowl, you put these two teams together on any field and those uniforms together, sign me up!”
Hawk talk: The practice week heading into the Pac-12 title game against Stanford, Trojans’ co-captain and senior safety Chris Hawkins was very animated about his team’s potential bowl opponents. Hawk was emphatic that he wanted to play Ohio State. Chris wanted the big apple and was willing to take the big bite. Well, No. 4, you just got your wish.
From the press box…
The truth: Given the announcement of the College Football Playoffs and how Alabama got into the mix of four playoff teams (Clemson, Oklahoma, Georgia), being a conference champion is now irrelevant – period. Sad, but true. When it’s all said and done, it’s just the subjective four best teams. It gives further strength to the argument that there should be an eight-team playoff, which should include conference champions and three at-large selections. Winning a conference title should mean something. A four-team playoff is absurd, and I’d say that even if the Trojans were part of this season’s CFP.
The takeaway: No question, the CFP committee took the Trojans humiliating 49-14 loss at Notre Dame and Ohio State’s embarrassing 54-24 loss at Iowa as the CFP elimination factor, and I agree completely.
Zing: The Pac-12 is the first Power 5 conference not to finish in the top 7 of the final CFP rankings. Let the West Coast bias argument begin, although that can be punctured somewhat if the Trojans can defeat Ohio State.
Feeling blue: I imagine UCLA fans weren’t too excited about the Trojans winning the Pac-12 title. Sure, they’ll pivot to the Chip Kelly hiring and predict doom and future gloom for the Men of Troy, especially against Ohio State. The reality is when the Trojans are on top of their game both on and off the gridiron, it really doesn’t matter what UCLA does. And what kind of heartbreak will be felt in Westwood if Sam Darnold returns for one more season and don’t discount that possibility.
Hindsight: Give Stanford head coach David Shaw credit in the Pac-12 title game for going for a late touchdown instead of a game-tying field goal on 4th and goal at the 1. And give the Trojans credit for stopping the run and turning the great defensive stand into a 99-yard backbreaking touchdown drive. It was college football at its best.
The post-game show…
Cardinal and gold wings: Don’t know about your flight back to wherever after the Pac-12 Championship Game, but my flight looked like a USC charter flight with a few Stanford fans thrown in for decorations. The general topic waiting for the flight back to SoCal was the future location of the upcoming bowl game. All the fans I heard expressed a strong desire to play Ohio State and called out Buckeyes’ head coach Urban Meyer by name. Do I dare say, “Be careful for what you wish for, it might come true.” Okay, I admit it, I wanted Ohio State, too, and now it is the Buckeyes.
It’s official: Pac-12 officials are certainly in the conversation as the worst of the worst in D-1 football. It seems like every other play is a flag. Geez, is there something Pac-12 officials actually see that a majority of other conference officials don’t? Boy, some of the calls bordered on brutal. Let’em play, guys!
More celebs: Also attending Pac-12 championship game was former Trojans’ Butkus Award winning linebacker Chris Claiborne and former Stanford stud and current Seattle Seahawks’ injured corner Richard Sherman.
Fake news: I know that the announced crowd for Friday night’s Pac-12 title game was 48,031. Do I chuckle now or later? Believe me – and those of you in attendance will concur – there was much less inside Levi’s Stadium.
Venue future: For those that care, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott gave a look into the Pac-12 Championship Game future before the game by saying, “Earlier this year, we had a chance to announce that we’re going to be partners here (Levi’s Stadium) in playing the game at least through 2019. We’ve got options beyond that, so we’re delighted that we’ve got the continuity of the event here for a while to building on the event.”
The last word: While the Trojans rejoice on their selection to the Cotton Bowl and Ohio State, Trojans’ Heisman winning quarterback and soon-to-be-inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame Matt Leinart was honored with a recent FOX Sports video, a compilation of congratulatory video messages from family, teammates, friends, and loved ones. Warning, you’d better have a box of Kleenex because at the end, it is very emotional.