PASADENA, Calif. — Let’s revisit my recent story on the four Ohio State NFL prospects tainting the Rose Bowl by sitting out the game to avoid injury.
The red-hot subject touched more than a few nerves, considering the piece settled inside the top 10 most viewed on the state’s leading website, KSL.com, for all of 2021. Lead ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit and Mississippi State coach Mike Leach, to name two, spoke out against the general idea of skipping a bowl to, in theory, prepare for the NFL draft that is held nearly four months after the game.
Every person has an opinion, a common theme on virtually all affairs in this country’s current climate. Good for you, you and you.
Now back to me.
This isn’t the time and place to debate personal decisions, even if it is a national story. Every discussion of it in this case cheapens the accomplishments of the Utah football program this season.
The point here is to praise a team that persevered through typical and also rather severe obstacles this season. No doubt about it, this season was unlike any in program history.
Ponder this for a bit: The story of two players dying in the last year is well-documented, but strictly from a football perspective, this team overcame a miserable start and numerous injuries to win the Pac-12 championship for the first time. The Utes were so desperate for a healthy cornerback they were forced to play running back Micah Bernard at the position and were forced to use walk-on quarterback Bryson Barnes after Cam Rising got injured late in the game.
Oh, sure, Ohio State kicked a chip-shot field goal with nine seconds left in the game to beat Utah 48-45 on college football’s most famed venue Saturday before a partisan Utah crowd of 87,842. Credit the Buckeyes, most especially quarterback C.J. Stroud, with an impressive offense that Utah could not slow when it mattered the most.
“Yeah, we’re all disappointed we didn’t win the game,” said coach Kyle Whittingham. “That’s the way life goes.”
Yeah, yeah, we know all about the inordinate number of injuries that befell Ohio State, which played without multiple starters on both sides of the ball. Then there’s those future NFL’ers who blew off college football’s grandest tradition, in part prompting Herbstreit to say on GameDay, “I think this era of play just doesn’t love football.”
The former Ohio State quarterback later took to Twitter in backing off his statement to a degree, mixing in “some” players don’t love the game. Whatever.
No sense in predicting the outcome based on the full strength of both teams. It’s anybody’s guess.
Here’s the prevailing truth: sixth-ranked Ohio State was slightly better than the No. 11 Utah. Any speculation otherwise is a great disservice to both teams.
The thought the Buckeyes weren’t interested in playing the bowl game was ridiculous and ignorant. They showed as much, running out on the field when Utah returner Britain Covey was tackled to end the game on the final play of his storied college career.
Obviously, nobody can ever question Utah’s desire to compete. Practically in shock after the game, several players walked solemnly off the field into the locker room with tears running down their faces.
‘Proud of our guys,” said Whittingham. “Absolutely nothing to hand their heads about.”
Well, maybe there is one thing. Utah’s defense was absolutely dreadful to the point Stroud broke Rose Bowl records for yards passing (573 yards) and touchdowns (six). Jaxon Smith-Njigba obliterated the game’s receiving records with 15 catches for 347 yards and three touchdowns.
No quarterback in the Pac-12 came close to performing as Stroud did against the Utes. Smith-Njigba showed why he was more productive than the two receivers who opted out of the game.
“It’s absolutely very frustrating to come up short,” said Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd. “But that doesn’t take away from everything we accomplished.”
No, it doesn’t.