UPDATE: Despite the tone that Ward set in his social media post, apparently the Columbus Dispatch is reporting that an Ohio State spokesman said that the final decision to not play was not made until today.
While the cornerback did help the younger DBs throughout the bowl practices, he also prepared as if he would play, even while he “wrestled with the decision to play (or not).”
UPDATE: Just before kickoff, All-American cornerback Denzel Ward posted a message on social media explaining why he would not be playing. He says that while he decided not to play in the Cotton Bowl to protect his NFL prospects, that it was important to him to be a part of the team’s preparations throughout.
It appears that this decision was not made at the last minute, but had been the plan throughout bowl prep.
Ohio State’s All-American junior cornerback Denzel Ward will reportedly miss tonight’s Cotton Bowl Classic. According to The Columbus Dispatch’s Tim May, Ward will not be in the lineup when the No. 5 Buckeyes take on the No. 8 USC Trojans.
Apparently CB Denzel Ward is NOT going to play for Ohio State tonight.— Tim May (@TIM_MAYsports) December 30, 2017
Details are still scarce at this point, but at yesterday’s press conference, OSU head coach Urban Meyer said that all players were expected to be available for the game. So, the assumption is that something transpired in the past 36 hours to change the DB’s status.
It could be that Ward opted not to play in the game to preserve his NFL Draft stock, ESPN currently has him ranked as the 10th best draft eligible player over all, but that has not yet been confirmed.
Damon Arnette and Kendall Sheffield are expected to start at corner for the Buckeyes in Ward’s stead, and true-freshman Jeffrey Okudah will likely see more action in the secondary than he has for the majority of the season.
Other than Ward, the rest of the Buckeye roster appears to be going through pre-game warmups as expected.
Ward accounted for 17 passes defended and 15 break ups this season, both of which rank third in the Big Ten. He also turned in 37 tackles on the campaign. His veteran leadership and athletic ability will be sorely missed against potential No. 1 overall draft pick, USC quarterback Sam Darnold.