Ryan Mayer

The college football bowl season is upon us. With 39 games spread out over the next two and a half weeks there is plenty of opportunity to add a little bonus to your holiday gift pile. Our bowl picks series will let you know who we think will come out on top against the spread. All lines and totals courtesy of Sportsline. Find all our picks here. All lines are as of the date of publication.

Goodyear Cotton Bowl

#8 USC (11-2) vs. #5 Ohio State (11-2)

Spread: Ohio State -7.5

Total: 64.5

Spread: The biggest question entering this game is how the Buckeyes will play after being left on the outside looking in at the playoff. Will they come out inspired to prove the committee wrong or flat and uninterested? One thing is for sure, Ohio State found itself on offense following the ugly blowout loss to Iowa. The Buckeyes rolled up 48, 52, 31, and 27 the final four weeks and for the season ranked 5th nationally in scoring at 42.5 PPG.

In that four game stretch they averaged nearly 48 rushing attempts and 281 yards per game. That’s the formula for success with this team, the dual-threat capability of J.T. Barrett mixed with a heavy dose of freshman back J.K. Dobbins and sophomore Mike Weber. The offense averaged nearly as many rushing yards per game (250) as passing (273) and Barrett is much more effective as a passer when the constant play-fakes are opening bigger windows due to success in the running game.

As good as the offense has been, the defense has been dominating all season, allowing opponents holding opponents under 20 points and 300 yards per game. The front four is deep, fast, and loaded with talent. Nick Bosa, Sam Hubbard and Tyquan Lewis have combined for 17.5 sacks and that’s not even mentioning guys like Dre’Mont Jones, Jalyn Holmes, or Tracy Sprinkle. Running on Ohio State is tough going as they’ve given up just 108.8 yards per game this season. They can be attacked through the air with taller receivers as they like to play a lot of man coverage on the outside and more physical receivers can beat their corners, but that’s easier said than done.

The big name everyone will be focused on for USC is QB Sam Darnold. Darnold had an up-and-down first full season as a starter (9 games last season), completing 63 percent of his passes for over 3,700 yards and 26 touchdowns with 12 interceptions. Picks and inaccuracy were a problem early in the year, with nine of his 12 interceptions coming in the first six games. Since then, he’s thrown 17 touchdowns to 3 interceptions looking more like the player many expected this season. Despite his early struggles the Trojans still ranked among the nation’s best in scoring averaging 34.5 points per game. Darnold was helped out by a big year from junior running back Ronald Jones who ran for over 1,400 yards and 18 touchdowns on 242 carries. The Trojans do have some injuries along the offensive line though and that’s not good when facing a pass rush like the Buckeyes have.

On defense, USC was middle of the pack this year allowing 26 points and over 400 yards per outing. Cameron Smith led the team in tackles with 102 and the Trojans pass rush is pretty deep prior as well, with Rasheem Green (9 sacks), Christian Rector (7.5 sacks), Uchenna Nwosu (7.5 sacks), and Josh Fatu (6 sacks). That’s not even mentioning Porter Gustin who had three sacks in four games and has been hampered by a toe injury.

Both teams were under .500 against the spread this year with Ohio State checking in at 6-7 and USC a dreadful 3-9-1. Neither team was an underdog much this season, in fact USC was the underdog in one game (Notre Dame) and they got smoked (49-14). The Buckeyes rushing attack is similarly dangerous as the Fighting Irish’s and that could be a big problem for USC. A blowout would be unexpected, but a 10-point Buckeyes win is possible. Ohio State -7.5

Total: Both offenses were high-scoring this season, but the Buckeyes ability to stop the run and get after Sam Darnold has me looking at the under here. Darnold may not have enough time to light up on the big stage the way he did last year against Penn State in the Rose Bowl. Under 64.5