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The Cotton Bowl gave Ohio State a glimpse of its future secondary

Also, would things have been different if OSU and UCF were in the playoff picture?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 02 Big 10 Championship Game - Ohio State v Wisconsin Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Matt Tamanini Matt Tamanini is the co-managing editor of Land-Grant Holy Land having joined the site in 2016.

“With Ward gone, the Scarlet and Gray have a rather large hole to fill at the No. 1 cornerback position. But OSU got a taste of what life will be like without Ward in the Cotton Bowl, holding USC to just seven points, albeit 356 passing yards.”

- Patrick Murphy,

The decision for All-American cornerback Denzel Ward to sit out the Cotton Bowl was a surprising one for many fans, especially since the day before the game, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said that all players were expected to be available against USC.

However, with the Buckeye defense dominating the Men of Troy en route to a 24-7 victory, we did get a sneak peek as to what the OSU secondary could look like next season. As Murphy points out, despite only officially being a starter for one season, Ward has made himself into a first-round pick in part because secondary coach Kerry Coombs freely rotates DBs throughout the season; something that benefited Ward as a sophomore.

So, when Ward decided to end his college career before Friday’s game, Damon Arnette, Kendall Sheffield, and Jeffrey Okudah were ready to go. The former two (both sophomores) saw more playing time than freshman Okudah during the season, but it would be surprising if those three were not the “first team” corners—thanks to one of those “OR” demarcations— when the depth chart is released for the Buckeyes’ season opener against Oregon State on Sept. 1.

To me, Okudah is the most exciting one in the group. While Arnette and Sheffield had impressive moments throughout the season, when an OSU corner got embarrassingly beat this year, it was almost certainly one of them. Okudah on the other hand didn’t see the field nearly as much as part of the first-team secondary, but he was an electric difference maker for the much maligned special teams units.

With eight months for the former five-star recruit to continue to improve before his second season in Columbus begins, I would not be surprised if he ends up starting alongside Arnette against the Beavers.

“Jae'Sean Tate and shoulder injuries. Bad news if you've been following his Ohio State basketball career.”

- Bill Landis,

Going into OSU’s 72-59 victory over Miami (OH) last Saturday, word started circulating that senior forward Jae’Sean Tate might miss the game due to a left shoulder strain. Ultimately, he ended up playing and turned in a workman-like 11 points and five boards.

Head coach Chris Holtmann noted than Tate didn’t play as well, or as hard, as he would have liked him to against the RedHawks, but that is to be expected to a certain extent, given the Pickerington native’s shoulder issues in the past. While he was still in high school, he had surgery on his right shoulder, and then his sophomore year for the Buckeyes was cut short due to surgery on a torn left labrum.

The current injury, which happened in practice last week, is not expected to keep him out of tomorrow’s game against the Iowa Hawkeyes, but Holtmann is a bit wary that Tate hasn’t been participating in contact drills at practice during the first few days of the week.

“My biggest concern for him right now is coming off a break and having these days,” Holtmann said, “he's a guy that needs rhythm both in his conditioning and fitness level, and in his play. So I'm a little concerned about what his rust level might be when you include the break.”

As the Big Ten season begins in earnest for the Buckeyes, they are going to need Tate to be as close to 100 percent as possible. Freshman Kaleb Wesson is essentially OSU’s only true post-player— especially with Micah Potter still hampered by injury— and the younger of the Wesson brothers is averaging less than 22 minutes per game, often due to foul trouble.

While Tate is not the prototypical big man, the Buckeyes will need him to contribute down low in conference play, if they want to defy the odds and earn an NCAA berth.

“But how would Ohio State, the team left out, and UCF, the underdog looking for its shot, have fared against the Crimson Tide or Bulldogs if given that chance in the national championship? ”

- Ben Kercheval, CBS Sports

As an Orlando resident, I am 100 percent on board with the University of Central Florida Knights declaring themselves national champions following their undefeated season. The Knights have an incredibly exciting offense that Buckeye fans will likely be seeing a version of soon, as UCF head coach Scott Frost has left Orlando for his alma mater in Nebraska.

However, CBS Sports is playing the ultimate “what-if” game (clearly they read our Matt Brown’s book and stole the idea) and running the numbers on imaginary National Championship games between the real title combatants, Alabama and Georgia, and UCF and Ohio State.

CBS’s SportsLine simulator gave ‘Bama an 80 percent chance to beat UCF, but only a 60 percent chance against the Buckeyes. The projected score for that theoretical matchup is 23-19 in favor of the Tide over OSU.

The Bulldogs on the other hand still were picked to defeat the Knights, but by the slimmest of margins, 27-24. And the Buckeyes were given a 65 percent chance over the Dawgs. CBS says that score would have been 26-19.

Of course these types of things mean absolutely nothing in the big picture, but they do illustrate one of Kercheval’s main points, that, when at its best, Ohio State was one of, if not the, best team in the country. Unfortunately for all of us Buckeye fans, they didn’t play their best every week.