Ohio State, left out of the four-team College Football Playoff, instead will present USC with a formidable foe in the Cotton Bowl.
The Trojans, also playoff outcasts, have not faced an offense as prolific this season.
Over 13 games, the Buckeyes averaged 42.5 points per game, fifth in the nation, and 524 yards per game, sixth in the nation.
J.T. Barrett remains the starter at quarterback and led Ohio State’s push toward a playoff bid for much of the fall, including its win over Wisconsin on Saturday in the Big Ten Conference championship game.
Against the previously unbeaten Badgers, Barrett delivered a clutch performance. Only six days recovered from surgery on his right knee, the senior signal caller threw two touchdowns and ran for another in the 27-21 win.
He is surrounded by a bevy of skilled playmakers, including J.K. Dobbins, a freshman running back and former top-50 recruit, plus sophomore running back Mike Weber, who has at times been limited by a hamstring injury.
Dobbins, totaling 1,364 yards on the ground, set Ohio State’s freshman rushing record, surpassing Maurice Clarrett, who led the program to its 2002 BCS national championship.
“It’s a group that makes you defend every inch of the grass on the field,” USC coach Clay Helton said, “and has fabulous athletes across the board.”
Helton believes Ohio State’s production stems from its balance production, ranking No. 15 in the nation in rush offense (249 yards per game) and No. 28 in pass offense (274 yards per game).
“They’re very, very hard to defend,” Helton said.
Their approach, though, is not always balanced, with running plays totaling more than 56 percent of their play calls. Kevin Wilson, the former Indiana coach, is in his first season as offensive coordinator.
One reason they might be a little more run heavy is Barrett, who has rushed for 732 yards and 10 touchdowns and can take off scrambling.
WHO’S COACHING THE BUCKEYES?
Urban Meyer might be only eight years older than Helton, but there are few coaches in college football more accomplished than the Buckeyes’ headman, who has won three national championships at two schools.
Meyer, in fact, might be something of a role model.
“The guy is a legend,” Helton said. “As a young coach growing up, I think all of us tried to model ourselves after Coach Meyer. Wherever he’s been, he’s had success.”
“Just means I’ve been around for a while,” Meyer said, when presented with Helton’s comments.