There simply is no better bowl game than the Rose Bowl. It doesn’t matter if the game is a College Football Playoff semifinal or if it’s not even hosting the champions from both the Big Ten and Pac-12. It’s still the Rose Bowl, and it’s still played on New Year’s Day in one of the most beautiful and scenic settings in the sport. While the game itself is usually top-notch, even if it’s a stinker, fans can still enjoy a beautiful sunset as the game moves along!
But odds are this one will not be a clunker. No. 11 Utah, the Pac-12 champions, take on No. 6 Ohio State in a clash of two of the best teams in the country to miss out on the playoff. The Buckeyes were a win against Michigan away from a likely playoff berth (we can’t assume they’d have beaten Iowa, but we can assume a little). At the same time, Utah is a team that would be hit with the “nobody wants to see this team in the playoff” if an expanded 12-team format existed this season.
So while a national title might not be on the line, do not be dismayed. It’s still the Rose Bowl, and it’s a Rose Bowl with a fantastic matchup. It’s also a rare one, as this will be only the second meeting between Ohio State and Utah in football. Let’s hope this one is closer, as Ohio State won the lone meeting 64-6 in 1986.
Ohio State vs. Utah: Need to know
Ohio State without key players on both sides of the ball: It’s an unfortunate reality these days that players with NFL futures often opt out of bowl games when they aren’t playoff games, even the Rose Bowl. Ohio State will be without Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave in this game, a duo that combined for 135 catches, 1,994 yards and 25 touchdowns this season. Now the good news is if there’s an area the Buckeyes can afford to be without players, it’s the receiver position. Jaxon Smith-Njigba is playing, and he was the team’s leading receiver this season. Let’s not forget that Ohio State’s receiver room was so deep that Jameson Williams transferred to Alabama for playing time before the season. Players who might not be as easy to replace include defensive lineman Haskell Garrett and starting left tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere.
Third downs will be huge: Yes, it takes a real football genius to tell you that third downs are important, but they are! And these are two offenses that happen to be two of the best when it comes to converting on them. Ohio State ranks third nationally with a conversion rate of 52% on third downs, while Utah is eighth at 49%. The Buckeyes are even better in third-and-medium situations (between 4 and 6 yards), converting 72% of the time. That’s the best in the nation. Odds are the defense that does the best job of getting the opposing offense off the field on third down will be the winning team.
Watch out for the Utah pass rush: Oregon defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux could be the first pick in the NFL Draft this spring, but he didn’t lead the Pac-12 in sacks. He didn’t even finish in the top two. No, those spots were occupied by two Utes. Mike Tafua led the league with 9.5 sacks, which was 1.5 more than his second-place teammate, Devin Lloyd. When you consider the potency of C.J. Stroud and the Ohio State passing attack, you know how important a strong pass rush is to try and slow it down. With Tafua and Lloyd, the Utes are just as capable of pulling it off as anyone.
How to watch Rose Bowl live
Game: Rose Bowl
Date: Saturday, Jan. 1 | Time: 5 p.m. ET
Location: The Rose Bowl — Pasadena, Calif.
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Rose Bowl prediction, picks
Featured Game | Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Utah Utes
It’s not an easy game to figure out. Ohio State is missing a host of important players but still has one of the most talented rosters in the country. Even if the replacements are inexperienced, they’ve spent the last month practicing in their new roles and should be prepared. But we also saw the Buckeyes defense struggle against a physical team in Michigan, and this Utah team is just as tough as the Wolverines were. So I’m playing both sides a bit here. I think Ohio State wins the game more often than not, but I don’t think the Buckeyes can blow this Utah team out — especially when you know the Utes will be amped to play in their first Rose Bowl. So Bucks to win, Utes to cover. Prediction: Utah (+6.5)
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