Once a game that every Big Ten program aspired to reach at the beginning of the season, the Rose Bowl game on Jan. 1 will understandably have the feel of a consolation prize for an Ohio State team that fell just short of a third consecutive trip to the College Football Playoff.
Ohio State’s stunning loss at Michigan to end the regular season dashed both its Big Ten and national championship hopes, and the Wolverines’ 42-3 beatdown of Iowa on Saturday solidified the Buckeyes’ spot in the classic game on New Year’s Day. Awaiting them will be the No. 11 Utah Utes (10-3), whose 28-point thrashing of Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game gave them their first-ever Rose Bowl bid.
While there is considerable disappointment throughout the program for how it finished the season, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day expects his team to be plenty motivated to play in what legendary college football announcer Keith Jackson often referred to as the “granddaddy of them all.”
“The goal here is to win championships. That’s a goal that we have year in and year out, and we didn’t reach that goal,” Day said on Sunday. “However, we have an opportunity to go play in a very tradition-rich Rose Bowl and that means a lot. It’s a New Years Six bowl and the 16th time, I believe, Ohio State has been in the Rose Bowl, so there’s a lot of tradition that’s led up to that. And I know our guys are going to want to play hard and win that game.”
Asked how his team is embracing the Rose Bowl bid in light of all that was lost in Ann Arbor, Day pointed to the pride his team has both in each other and in its goal of ending the season on a positive note.
“I think all of our guys have a lot of pride in themselves and a lot of pride in this team, and there’s been a lot of hard work and a lot of progress that was made all year from when we started this thing,” Day said. “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 … I think there are a lot of lessons that have been learned from the last game, and that’ll obviously motivate us moving forward. But right now, the focus is on this Rose Bowl and sending out the seniors in the right way, and I know everybody in the program wants to do that.”
While Day doesn’t expect motivation to be an issue for his team next month, there remains the question of which players will be available to play in the game. Since the playoff era changed the postseason landscape of college football in 2014, the trend of players opting out of non-playoff bowl games has become a common thread during bowl season as, oftentimes, players elect not to risk injury in a game without championship implications.
For a program like Ohio State, which has no shortage of draft hopefuls, the starting lineups could look considerably different than what took the field in Michigan. In particular, an offense that features three potential first-round picks in Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, and Nicholas Petit-Frere could experience some shakeup in the days leading up to the game.
Those decisions figure to dominate the storylines for Ohio State in the coming weeks, but for the time being, Day said he anticipates having all hands on deck.
“We’ll deal with that on an individual basis based on how it all shakes out. But right now, count on everybody to play in the game,” he said.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.