The sting from Sunday has faded, if not disappeared.
The Ohio State Buckeyes have moved on. They don’t have a choice.
On Friday, five days after they were left out of the College Football Playoff despite winning the Big Ten championship the night before, the Buckeyes were back on the field for their first bowl practice. Ohio State will play Pac-12 champion Southern California in the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 29 in Arlington, Texas.
The Buckeyes have started final exams and implementation of the game plan for the Trojans won’t start in earnest until those are over.
“We’ve been doing little stuff, but this is the first time we’ve suited up, with some coaches back from recruiting,” defensive end Sam Hubbard said. “It felt good.”
Hubbard said it didn’t take long after Sunday to turn the page. The appeal of playing USC is a big reason.
“USC is a historically great program,” Hubbard said. “It’s Pac-12 champs vs. Big Ten champs. It’s a great matchup and we’re fortunate to be in this game.”
Hubbard’s linemate, senior Tyquan Lewis, tried to be philosophical about Sunday’s disappointment.
“We swung at it, made a case for it,” Lewis said. “Definitely, it hurt. But we got into a good bowl and are playing against a tradition-rich opponent. I’m ready to go. A lot of guys are ready to play in this game. It’s still a big-time game. Every opportunity I get, I cherish.”
Last year, several star players around the country sat out their team’s bowl games rather than risk injury that might hurt their draft stock. The Buckeyes were practically aghast at the possibility that any of their teammates would even consider it.
“Not a chance,” said senior center Billy Price, fresh off winning the Rimington Trophy on Thursday. “If anybody were to sit out of a game after you play at Ohio State, there’s something in your character that I don’t know if you belong here.”
Price was asleep when the playoff bracket was announced. So was Terry McLaurin. The junior receiver said he was optimistic about the Buckeyes’ chances.
“Obviously, the initial reaction is you’re disappointed because you go into the season wanting to win your conference, which we did, and you want to play for a national championship,” McLaurin said.
But playing USC at AT&T Stadium, which was the site of the Buckeyes’ national championship victory over Oregon three years ago, has rejuvenated the Buckeyes.
The Trojans have won the last seven meetings against Ohio State, which last beat USC in the 1974 Rose Bowl. The current Trojans have been leaky on defense but feature an offense led by quarterback Sam Darnold, who is projected to be a high first-round draft pick in the spring.
“Based on what I have watched so far, he is a great quarterback,” Lewis said. “He can sling the rock around. He makes a lot of plays on third down. He’s a competitor.
“It definitely intrigues and excites me to go against big-time talent. It’s another opportunity to put on a show under the lights and make a statement, especially for everyone on the D-line.”
Even if it’s not quite the show the Buckeyes wanted to appear in. Asked whether the sting from Sunday’s omission will linger for a long time, Lewis was honest.
“Probably,” he said.