Snubbed from the four-team playoff this season, the Buckeyes cashed in four turnovers by USC quarterback Sam Darnold for 21 points in a 24-7 win over the Trojans in the Cotton Bowl Classic Friday night at AT&T Stadium.
The fifth-ranked Buckeyes closed the season with 12 wins under head coach Urban Meyer — and snapped a lengthy losing streak to the No. 8-ranked Trojans.
As All-American junior defensive back Denzel Ward sat out the came in a controversial decision to protect his NFL draft stock, it was teammate Damon Webb returning a Darnold pass for a touchdown — after he had earlier recovered a fumble to set up an early Buckeye TD.
The Big Ten and Pac-12 champions would usually play New Year's Day in Pasadena instead of Texas, but the Rose Bowl is a CFP semifinal game on Monday between Oklahoma and Georgia.
The Buckeyes — with that bad loss at Iowa after an early setback to playoff team Oklahoma — were the first team left out this season.
Webb recovered a fumble on the third play f the game, setting up record-breaking OSU QB J.T. Barrett for a 1-yard TD run. His 23-yard interception return for a TD put Ohio State up 17-0 less than a minute into the second quarter.
Ohio State — 14-0 under Meyer when an INT is returned for a TD — went up 24-0 after Barrett ran 28 yards for another TD after the first of two Darold fumbles.
A potential top overall pick candidate for the Cleveland Browns, Darnold was 26-of-45 passing for 356 yards, but had the turnovers and was sacked eight times.
Barrett broke Drew Brees' Big Ten career record for total offense with 12,697 yards in his final game at OSU. He played 50 games and was 38-6 as a starter. His 147 TDs are also a Big Ten record, 41 more than Brees at Purdue.
Friday’s game was the eighth time Ohio State and USC met in a bowl game — the first seven coming in the Rose Bowl. The Trojans had won seven straight in the matchup of powerhouse programs, including four regular-season matchups.
With Friday’s win, Ohio State improved to 24-25 all-time in bowl games, and has won the Cotton Bowl twice. The other appearance in the Texas game came in a 1987 win over Texas A&M (28-12) under head coach Earle Bruce.