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Ohio State’s Cotton Bowl history by the numbers

A look at the Buckeyes’ ghosts of Cotton Bowl Classics past.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 29 Cotton Bowl Classic - USC v Ohio St Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When Ohio State and Missouri tee it up and kick off this year’s Cotton Bowl Classic, it will become another game in the rich tapestry of Buckeye football lore. Now that we’re in game week, it’s a good time to revisit how the Buckeyes have fared in this contest in the past, and to dig into the history of Ohio State’s involvement with the Cotton Bowl. Let’s look inside the numbers.


The Buckeyes haven’t lost in the Cotton Bowl in two previous attempts (more on those games later). This year’s team will be fighting to keep Ohio State’s record perfect in this particular postseason game.


Ohio State was the first team from the Big Ten to play in the Cotton Bowl. That debut for the conference took place in 1987 when the Buckeyes traveled south to face Texas A&M. The defenses took center stage in the game and ultimately the Buckeyes prevailed to bring the B1G its first trophy from the Cotton Bowl Classic.


In addition to this being the Buckeyes’ third trip to the Cotton Bowl, it will be against the third different opponent representing the third different conference. Ohio State previously faced Texas A&M (then with the Southwest Conference) and Pac-12 power USC (which is now headed to the Big Ten). This year’s game against the Missouri Tigers of the SEC makes it three opponents from three conferences in three trips.

Three is also the number of pick-sixes the Ohio State defense has scored in two previous trips to the Cotton Bowl. The Buckeyes got interception return touchdowns in 1987 from Chris Spielman and fellow linebacker Michael Kee, and another from Damon Webb in 2017 against USC.


Ohio State is one of four Big Ten teams to have ever played in a Cotton Bowl. The other three are Michigan State, Penn State, and Wisconsin. Although Nebraska and Maryland have each appeared in the Cotton Bowl Classic, they were not yet members of the Big Ten Conference when they played in it.


Ohio State’s national rank entering the 2017 Cotton Bowl against USC. The Buckeyes went 8-1 in conference play and it was likely that loss at Iowa that we don’t like to talk about that kept them out of the College Football Playoff. That was the second OSU loss of the year, with the first coming at home to No. 5 Oklahoma. That 2017 Buckeye team nipped Wisconsin, 27-21, to win the Big Ten championship.

Five is also the number for a Cotton Bowl record Ohio State set in 1987 for the number of interceptions by a team in one game. Spielman accounted for two of those interceptions, with the others coming from Kee, Eric Kumerow, and Sonny Gordon.


The Buckeyes limited Sam Darnold and the USC offense to just seven points in the 2017 Cotton Bowl. Darnold, then a sophomore, was a semifinalist for the Maxwell, Davey O’Brien, and Walter Camp awards. Ohio State’s defense bent against Darnold but did not break, as the quarterback went 26-of-45 for 356 yards against the OSU defense but he did not throw a touchdown pass and did throw a pick-six to Webb.

Speaking of the number 7, that was Webb’s jersey number. Webb’s pick-six for a 23-yard touchdown pushed the OSU lead to 17-10 at the time and he also had a key fumble recovery that he returned 20 yards to set up Ohio State’s first touchdown of the day. Webb was named the game’s defensive MVP.

And finally, Ohio State enters this week’s Cotton Bowl as the No. 7 ranked team in the country. The Buckeyes had higher aspirations for the 2023 season but this is how things shook out after just one single loss to That Team Up North. Ohio State finished the regular season 11-1 and 8-1 in Big Ten play.


The Aggies of Texas A&M were ranked No. 8 when Ohio State met them in the 1987 Cotton Bowl Classic on Jan. 1, 1987. A&M won the Southwestern Conference with a 7-1-0 record, losing only a close away game at No. 17 Arkansas, 14-10. The Aggies entered the Cotton Bowl with a 9-2-0 record, with the other loss coming at the hands of No. 15 LSU on the road in the season opener.

The USC Trojans were also ranked No. 8 in the country when the Buckeyes met them in the Cotton Bowl in 2017. USC won the Pac-12 that season, finishing 8-1 in conference play and entering the bowl season 11-2. The team’s only loss in Pac-12 play was a three-point road loss at No. 16 Washington State. The other Trojan loss prior to meeting Ohio State that season came at No. 13 Notre Dame, where the Trojans were blown out, 49-14.


The Missouri Tigers enter this week’s matchup as the nation’s ninth-ranked team. The Tigers finished second in the SEC East with a 6-2 mark in league play. Their losses came at home to No. 23 LSU (49-39) in a high-scoring affair and by nine points at No. 2 Georgia (30-21). Missouri enters with a 10-2 record overall.


The Buckeyes were the nation’s No. 11 team when they faced Texas A&M in the 1987 Cotton Bowl game. Ohio State shared the Big Ten title with Michigan with identical 7-1-0 conference records. However, the Wolverines went to the Rose Bowl thanks to a 26-24 win in Columbus in The Game, due in large part to Matt Frantz missing a 45-yard field goal with 1:01 to play. That Ohio State team entered the game 9-3-0, having dropped its first two games of the season (a 16-10 loss to No. 5 Alabama in the Kickoff Classic and a butt-whooping at No. 17 Washington) before reeling off nine straight wins.


The Buckeyes held Texas A&M to just 12 points in winning the 1987 Cotton Bowl, 28-12. The Aggies scored just 10 at Arkansas during the season but other than that, the Buckeyes did a better job of shutting down the Texas A&M offense than anyone else had all season. The Aggies entered the game averaging 33 points per game and had hung 74 points on TCU just two games prior to facing Ohio State.


The number worn by 2017 Cotton Bowl offensive MVP was 16, by J.T. Barrett. The Ohio State quarterback threw for 114 yards, ran for 66 more, and had two touchdowns on the ground to lead the Buckeye attack.


Ohio State scored 24 points against USC in the school’s most recent Cotton Bowl appearance in 2017. Barrett started things off with a 1-yard touchdown run early in the first quarter for the only score of the opening period. Sean Nuernberger added a field goal early in the second quarter and Webb’s touchdown on an interception return made it 17-0 less than a minute after the field goal. Barrett added a 28-yard touchdown run later in the second quarter to push the lead to 24-0. It appeared the Buckeyes were going to blow USC out of the building, but the Trojans got a Ronald Jones 1-yard touchdown run just before halftime and neither side put up any points in the second half.


The Buckeyes hung 28 on Texas A&M in the 1987 game on the way to their first Cotton Bowl Classic championship. Quarterback Jim Karsatos ran it in from three yards out in the second quarter to erase a 3-0 deficit and give the Buckeyes the lead for good. The Aggies closed the score to within 7-6 before halftime, but Spielman’s interception return for a touchdown sparked the Buckeyes to a big second half. Vince Workman added a 3-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to make it 21-6. Roger Vick’s 2-yard run pulled the Aggies within 21-12 before the fourth quarter, but Texas A&M failed on a two-point conversion try. Kee’s 49-yard interception return in the fourth quarter created the final margin of 28-12. It was the Ohio State defense that won that game.


All-American linebacker Spielman wore the number 36 for Ohio State and captured Ohio State’s MVP honors in the 1987 Cotton Bowl. His interception return set the tone for the defense in the second half and the Buckeyes stifled the Aggie offense throughout the game. He finished with two interceptions and 11 tackles in the game.


Roger Vick, who wore number 43, was Texas A&M’s MVP in the 1987 Cotton Bowl. The fullback ran for 113 yards and a touchdown for the Aggies. On a day in which the A&M offense was held in check, Vick was the team’s steadiest performer.


Kee’s 49-yard interception return for a touchdown set a new Cotton Bowl Classic record in 1987 for the longest such score. It broke the old mark of 47 set by Bryon “Whizzer” White of Colorado set against Rice in 1947.


The most yards an Ohio State quarterback has thrown for in a Cotton Bowl is a measly 195 by Karsatos in 1987. Barrett didn’t have to throw as much against USC and the Buckeyes ran into stiff defenses in both previous games. However, with a first-time starter going up against a feisty Missouri team, this record may yet stand after Friday night.