Ohio State football quarterback C.J. Stroud 'super excited' for homecoming in the Rose Bowl
A little less than an hour’s worth of freeway snarl separates C.J. Stroud’s hometown from the Rose Bowl.
It makes Ohio State’s appearance in the New Year’s Day bowl game a homecoming for the redshirt freshman quarterback who grew up in Southern California’s Inland Empire.
“Being a full-fledge Cali guy, born and raised there, it’s definitely a blessing to be able to play in this game,” Stroud said Wednesday. “I’m definitely excited. Of course, it’s not where we want to be, but it’s where we’re at, and I’m super excited for that. I’m going to try to go out the right way and have fun back home, have fun with the game.”
Like most of his teammates, Stroud sought a berth in the College Football Playoff, where the Buckeyes could have vied for a national championship.
But a 42-27 loss to Michigan on Nov. 27 eliminated them from contention and left them with the consolation prize in Pasadena.
Next month’s matchup with Utah won’t be the first time Stroud has stepped foot inside the Rose Bowl. He said he went to several UCLA games throughout his childhood. The Bruins, who play their home games at the stadium, also recruited him out of Rancho Cucamonga High School.
He expects a different scene when it hosts the “Granddaddy of them All.”
“It’s a little more big-time than UCLA games,” Stroud said. “I feel like the Rose Bowl will probably be a little louder, a little more people.”
One of his most vivid memories of watching the Rose Bowl came five years ago when USC and Penn State dueled in a high-scoring shootout.
“It was just a good game to watch,” he said.
The atmosphere will also feature more familiar faces in the stands. Stroud, who is a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, expects to have additional family and guests in attendance for his first game in his home state since high school.
While a return home leaves Stroud with additional motivation in his preparation over the coming weeks, he doesn’t anticipate that other Buckeyes will be lacking any, either.
He said they’re all eager to play and have been working out hard each day at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center before their bowl practices start on Friday. Many of them, including Stroud, are feeling better after they fell ill in the leadup to the game at Michigan.
“We have a great attitude,” he said. “Dudes are showing up to our workouts, killing it and running hard and lifting hard. We're throwing, as well. We're doing the little things, which I feel will turn into big things.”
It’ll be an important factor against the Utes, who won nine of their final 10 games to reach the Rose Bowl for the first time in school history.
“Utah’s a hell of a team," Stroud said. "They do a lot of good things. Definitely not taking them lightly at all.”
But Stroud also acknowledged a possibility that the Buckeyes could have a handful of players opt out of the game, an increasing trend across college football in the playoff era.
Without an opportunity to win a national championship, some NFL draft-eligible players have sat out bowl games rather than risk injury that would damage their pro aspirations. Former Buckeyes cornerback Denzel Ward did not play in the Cotton Bowl in 2017 as he announced his entry into the draft.
If wide receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson make a similar decision, leaving him without two of his top targets, Stroud said he would understand.
“I told them both to just do whatever is best for you,” Stroud said. "At the end of the day, whatever they decide to do, I’m behind them. Because in this sport, in this life, in this college football world, a lot of people do what’s best for them. So you kind of have to do what’s best for you, because even if it might look as a selfish situation, those guys gave everything to Ohio State.
"I’ve never seen them make a selfish decision. If they don't play, it's probably a benefit to them, and I fully respect it. Then it’s time for guys to step up.”
Joey Kaufman covers Ohio State football for The Columbus Dispatch. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @joeyrkaufman.