This year, the Rose Bowl features two teams who have only played once all-time and one team in Utah who has never been to the “Granddaddy of them all,” one of the biggest games in college football. Ohio State has taken the trip to Pasadena 14 times and is 7-7 all-time in the Rose Bowl. It will also be a homecoming for Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud who is from nearby Rancho Cucamonga, California, and Utah quarterback Cameron Rising, who is from Newbury Park. There are plenty of exciting angles to break down for what should be one of the best games of this year’s bowl season, and I’m incredibly excited to be in attendance to watch it all take place.
Utah Utes Vs. Ohio State Buckeyes Betting Odds
Utah Utes Betting Odds
After joining the Pac-12 in 2011, Utah won its first-ever Power 5 title this year and made its first trip to the Rose Bowl. However, this isn’t a team that will settle for just “happy to be here.” Kyle Whittingham has worked hard to get this team to its peak after taking over for former Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer in 2004, and he has done an excellent job in elevating the program to new heights. Whittingham has a habit of getting his team ready for the postseason, as well, with an 11-3 all-time bowl record.
Utah’s offense has been excellent this season. They scored 35.5 points per game, 19th-most in the country, and The Utes are led by sophomore quarterback Cameron Rising, who was named the First-Team All-Pac 12 quarterback after throwing for 2,279 yards and 18 touchdowns to five interceptions during the regular season. The team doesn’t have one standout pass-catcher, but it has gotten solid contributions from Britain Covey, Brant Kuithe, and Dalton Kincaid in the passing game.
However, Rising is more of a game manager, and the offense is built on the strength of the run game. During the regular season, Utah ranked 13th in the country with 216.1 rushing yards per game and second with 5.61 yards per attempt. Tavion Thomas led the way with over 1,000 yards and 20 touchdowns, but T.J. Pledger, Micah Bernard, and Rising all have over 400 yards on the ground. Ohio State’s run defense will have a tough time keeping this electric ground game in check, especially behind a stout offensive line.
Utah was also one of the best defensive teams in the country this season, allowing just 20.6 points per game and 317.8 yards per game, both the fewest in the Pac-12. Devin Lloyd is the team’s best player and arguably the best draft prospect who will be playing in this game as a likely first-round pick this year. Lloyd had five games with multiple tackles for loss this year and had seven sacks in the regular season, leading all Pac-12 linebackers. Lloyd also earned Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year honors in the Pac-12 and is a two-time Butkus Award Finalist for the best linebacker in the country.
The Utes aren’t just a one-man band on defense, however, as Mika Tafua led the way with 9.5 sacks this year and freshman Junior Tafuna had 4.5 sacks, second-most among Pac-12 freshmen and enough to earn him the Defensive Freshman Player of the Year honors in the conference. Utah’s front seven will challenge Ohio State’s offensive line. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention Britain Covey Jr., First-Team All-Pac 12 return specialist, who averaged 30.4 yards per kick return and ran back two punts for touchdowns this year.
Ohio State Buckeyes Betting Odds
C.J. Stroud may have started the year a bit slow, especially in the team’s Week 2 loss to Oregon, but he has come on strong as the year has gone on and has been as-promised as the next great Ohio State quarterback. Stroud completed 70.9% of his passes for 3,862 yards, 38 touchdowns, and just five interceptions this year in a stellar performance that earned him First-Team All-Big Ten honors. Stroud also finished as the fourth-leading vote receiver in Heisman voting, and he said he “wasn’t happy with the results at all.” It sounds like he’s extra-motivated coming into this Rose Bowl game to play well. He will have to do it without top offensive tackle Nicholas Petit-Fere who has opted to prepare for the draft.
The national media has declared that Stroud can’t get the job done without his leading receivers in Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave, both of whom have opted out and are expected to be first-round picks in the NFL. Both players had over 65 catches and combined for just under 2,000 yards and 25 touchdowns, leaving behind a huge chunk of the team’s passing game. The onus will be on sophomore Jaxon Smith-Njigba to step up after his excellent sophomore season. Marvin Harrison Jr. (yes, his dad is that guy) may be the name to look out for in the Rose bowl, as Wilson predicted he would be the next OSU receiver to break out. Wide receivers coach Brian Hartline has done an excellent job developing these players at OSU.
Ohio State will likely look to establish the run a bit more than usual given the absences of their top wideouts, and they have three competent runners in TreVeyon Henderson, Miyan Williams, and Master Teague. I’m very intrigued to see what kind of a game plan Ryan Day devises for this game, especially since Utah’s front seven demands creative play-calling and a diversified attack. Day, for his credit, has led the Buckeyes to a 33-4 record as head coach, although he is just 1-2 in bowl games so far in his career. Ohio State ranked first in the country with 45.5 points per game, so they will likely have some good stuff in store for this game.
Defensively, Ohio State wasn’t as dominant as it has been in recent years. They allowed 20.9 points per game, 24th-fewest in the country, but ranked 40th in Football Outsiders’ FEI efficiency metric. For reference, OSU ranked second in FEI when it lost in the College Football Playoff Championship two years ago. Haskell Garrett was the only Buckeye to make the First-Team All-Big Ten, but he opted out of this game. As of now, defensive end Zach Harrison has not decided whether or not he will play in this game. The Buckeyes would be notably light up front against a tremendous rushing offense if he also opts out.
Utah Utes vs. Ohio State Buckeyes Picks & Prediction
When a college football team starts having several players opt-out of a bowl game, you always begin to have concerns about their mindset entering the contest. Take, for example, Clemson, who has several Day 1 and 2 prospects not opting out of the Cheez-It Bowl. Dabo Swinney has that program committed, and the lack of focus from Ohio State could prove problematic. They were not expecting to be in this game – they were ranked #2 in the country entering the game against Michigan and surely were hoping for a chance to avenge their loss in the College Football Playoff Final two years ago.
Utah, meanwhile, is riding an incredible wave of momentum into this game on the back of an ascending head coach and dominant play in the trenches on both sides of the ball. The Utes have played this entire season with the sense that they belong in the conversation of the top teams in the country, and they have the chance to prove it in this game. Utah’s run game should overwhelm Ohio State’s lightened front seven, and its elite defense could limit C.J. Stroud in a way we haven’t seen this year without Olave and Wilson. Ultimately, I’m picking the team with its key players actually playing that is not only excited to be here but believes it can win.
My Prediction: Utah wins 30-27, Utah covers, under 64 points