By late Friday, with USC claiming a Pac-12 Conference championship following a win over Stanford, its season held some hope of ending in the College Football Playoff.
The Trojans, at 11-2 overall, were in position to vie for the fourth spot in the four-team bracket alongside Alabama and Ohio State.
“I think we deserve to be in the discussion,” Coach Clay Helton said, “especially the way these guys finished the season. They’re hot right now and they’re playing good football.”
In a controversial decision, the selection committee on Sunday awarded the final spot to the Crimson Tide (11-1) over the Buckeyes, who were 11-2 overall but clinched the Big Ten Conference championship.
The Trojans ultimately received little consideration. The committee ranked them eighth in its final rankings, behind three teams from the SEC, including seventh-ranked Auburn, which ended at 10-3 overall following a loss in its conference championship game, plus Wisconsin.
Left out of the playoff picture, USC instead will play Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 29 in a traditional Pac-12 vs. Big Ten pairing.
The game is held at the colossal AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, where USC opened its 2016 season against Alabama.
This is the first season since 2001 that will end without the Pac-12/Pac-10 champion playing for the national championship or appearing in the Rose Bowl game. This year, the Rose Bowl is used as a semifinal matchup for the CFP playoff and will feature No. 2 Oklahoma vs. No. 3 Georgia.
As with USC, Ohio State’s playoff chances took a hit over the second half of the season with ugly losses. The Trojans suffered a 49-14 defeat at Notre Dame in October, while the Buckeyes were routed by unranked Iowa in November, 55-24.
USC is also the second Pac-12 champion in three seasons to miss the playoff. Two-loss Stanford was not included in the field in 2015.
While a compelling matchup among two one-time playoff contenders, it is also reunites the two traditional college football powerhouses in the postseason for the first time in three decades.
The Cotton Bowl marked the eighth bowl matchup between USC and Ohio State, tied for the most between any team FBS teams, according to ESPN Stats & Info. The Trojans have also played Michigan in eight bowl games.
All seven previous bowl games against Ohio State were in the Rose Bowl, including six meetings from 1969-85.
Most bowl projections had the teams to set for the Dec. 30 Fiesta Bowl, also one of the New…