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Column: Why are Ohio State’s potential draftees choosing to play in the Cotton Bowl?

It’s definitely different from years past.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 18 Minnesota at Ohio State Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Cotton Bowl is just over a week away, and we have learned that many players who could/still might declare for the NFL Draft decided plan to play in the game. While some statuses are still unknown, such as TreVeyon Henderson and Marvin Harrison Jr., some other big names have decided to play.

Denzel Burke, Emeka Egbuka, Jordan Hancock, Donovan Jackson, Jack Sawyer and Tyleik Williams have all come out publicly to say that they are playing in the game. Meanwhile, Tommy Eichenberg, J.T. Tuimoloau and Lathan Ransom are a few that haven’t said anything. However, I do find it interesting that a good amount of these big names have decided to play in the game.

It is a fair assumption that most of these guys are going to go pro. I have been unsure about Egbuka, though, since he missed time this season with an injury, so he didn’t get to have the same success as he experienced last year, where he racked up over 1,000 receiving yards.

Ohio State v Michigan Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

As for the other players, most of them had phenomenal seasons. Burke and Williams were both named Walter Camp All-Americans, as well as Harrison Jr. Sawyer had a good bounce-back season, Hancock stepped up big time in the secondary and Jackson provided a nice veteran presence on a mostly-new offensive line.

All of these guys are draft-eligible, so I’m curious what their thought process has been the past few weeks. When the Buckeyes made the Rose Bowl in 2021, they had a very similar season — a loss to TTUN, no Big Ten Championship and no CFB Playoff. They also did lose to Oregon in the regular season.

So, when they ended up in the Rose Bowl against Utah, a few of the high-profile players opted out, including Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. They knew they were going pro and didn’t want to risk injuring themselves during the bowl game.

Both teams had/have unfinished business. Neither team met their goals of being their rivals and making it to the postseason to compete for a national title. Why are many high-profile players choosing to play in this game, then, and possibly stay for another season?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 25 Ohio State at Michigan Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The expectations are the same every year. Beat TTUN and make the playoffs. While they didn’t beat TTUN last year, they did make it to the playoffs. I think it’s the way that the game against Georgia ended, losing by a missed field goal in the final seconds, that left a chip on a lot of these guys’ shoulders that they carried into this season.

The expectations were even higher this year. Losing was simply not acceptable, especially not for a third year in a row to TTUN. Yet, they did. They didn’t meet their goals, again. So, for a good chunk of this team, a lot of them have never beat TTUN or played in a conference championship.

That’s why I think a lot of them are coming back. They are tired of losing and don’t want to end their collegiate careers that way. Even if they don’t come back after the Cotton Bowl, they will (hopefully) leave with a win under their belt in their final game.

As for anything past the bowl game... like I said, they have unfinished business. I think that’s why Marv and Henderson are even pondering coming back. Yes, the NFL and all of its money is tempting, but these guys have goals at Ohio State that they haven’t met. Will they come back for another year to try and accomplish them? TBD. But, I’m just excited we get to see a lot of them play for at least one more time against Missouri.