No. 6 Ohio State headed to Rose Bowl to face Pac-12 champion Utah

Bill Rabinowitz
The Columbus Dispatch

Ohio State's arch-rival is in the College Football Playoff for the first time.

So is another program from Ohio.

To have Michigan and Cincinnati in makes the Buckeyes' absence from the CFP for the first time in three years even more painful. But while any non-playoff bowl can only be a consolation prize, a trip to the Rose Bowl is certainly a nice one.

As expected, the Buckeyes will head to Pasadena, California, to play Pac-12 champion Utah on New Year's Day.

"The goal here is to win championships," Ohio State coach Ryan Day said Sunday after the selection was announced. "That's a goal we have year-in and year-out. We didn't reach that. But we have an opportunity to play in a tradition-rich bowl, and that means a lot. I know our guys want to play hard and win that game."

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Ohio State moved up from No. 7 to No. 6 in the final CFP rankings, moving ahead of Oklahoma State, which lost to Baylor in the Big 12 championship game.

OSU will be making its 16th appearance in the Rose Bowl. The Buckeyes last went three years ago, defeating Washington 28-23 in Urban Meyer's finale as OSU's coach.

In Ohio State's last trip to the Rose Bowl, coach Urban Meyer led the Buckeyes to a 28-23 win in his final game at OSU.

The Utes (10-3) have never been to the Rose Bowl. No. 11 Utah, which joined the Pac-12 in 2011, won the league title for the first time by defeating Oregon 38-10. It was the Utes' second lopsided victory over the Ducks in three weeks after a similar 38-7 demolition on Nov. 20. Oregon defeated Ohio State 35-28 in Columbus on Sept. 11.

Utah will have no shortage of motivation for the Rose Bowl. The Buckeyes' level of motivation is a question they'll have to answer.

"I think all of our guys have a lot of pride in themselves and a lot of pride in this team," Day said. "There's been a lot of hard work and a lot of progress that was made all year from when we started this thing, so we want to finish this thing the right way. We have a really good opponent in Utah, a great bowl in the Rose Bowl, so we want to have a great month."

Day said no Ohio State players have told him that they plan to opt out of the Rose Bowl, but that is a possibility.

Day said the sting of their 42-27 defeat at Michigan has not faded. He didn't watch the conference championship game, which ended Ohio State's streak of four Big Ten titles.

Day and his staff have been on the road recruiting. Early Signing Day is Dec. 15 and the Buckeyes have the No. 4 class nationally, according to 247Sports.

Ohio State and Utah have played only once. The Buckeyes won 64-6 on Sept. 27, 1986, in Columbus.

The Utes went 2-9 that year and remained mired in mediocrity for much of its time in the Mountain West Conference until Urban Meyer was hired as coach in 2003. The future Buckeyes coach went 10-2 and 12-0 in two seasons before leaving for Florida.

Kyle Whittingham succeeded Meyer and has a 144-69 record in 17 seasons.

This year's team overcame tragedy and a slow start to win the Pac-12. Two Utes players, Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe, died in separate shootings in the last 12 months.

Utah lost non-conference games to BYU and San Diego State and then lost to Oregon State on Oct. 23 to fall to 4-3. But the Utes won their next six games, including their pair of routs of Oregon.

Quarterback Cameron Rising has thrown for 2,279 yards and 18 touchdowns with five interceptions. Rising has spread the ball around. No Utah receiver has 50 catches, but six have more than 20.

Running back Tavion Thomas, a former All-Ohio player from Dayton Dunbar High School, has run for 1,041 yards and 20 touchdowns with a yards-per-carry average of 5.6.

On defense, Utah ranks 12th nationally in total defense (315.4 yards per game) and 13th in yards allowed per play (4.85).

Bill Rabinowitz covers Ohio State football for The Columbus Dispatch. Contact him at brabinowitz@dispatch.com or on Twitter @brdispatch.

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