Devin Brown’s audition to be the starting quarterback and lots of NFL-eligible players not opting out makes a game against Missouri – four days before the playoff semifinals – matter to the men in Scarlet and Gray.
Columbus, OH – The college football silly season of the portal, bowl opt-outs and draft declaring took a serious tone Tuesday in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
Several Ohio State players who are eligible to enter the NFL Draft sat down behind the microphone and said they will play in the Cotton Bowl. However, only linebacker Cody Simon said he for sure will be a Buckeye next season. The others – Emeka Egbuka, Jack Sawyer, Denzel Burke, Donovan Jackson, Jordan Hancock – didn’t rule out entering the draft.
The NFL question lingers about that group plus J.T. Tuimoloau, TreVeyon Henderson and others.
Playing in the bowl game naturally seems to equate with staying in school.
“We gotta go out the right way,” said Sawyer, a defensive end from Pickerington North. “It’s unfortunate we couldn’t finish out the season the way we wanted to for our seniors. We really need to go out with a good win and put on a good performance and send guys out the right way.”
Was Sawyer including himself on the list of players going out the right way? Perhaps. Who’s staying, who’s going are decisions to be revealed later.
But what was clear on Tuesday is that this team has something to prove. They are playing for no other reason – at least the ones who spoke Tuesday – but to win and to atone in whatever way they can for what happened in Ann Arbor three Saturdays ago.
Sawyer answered clearly when asked if he was playing in the Cotton Bowl.
The Buckeyes play Missouri of the SEC on Friday, December 29, in Dallas at AT&T Stadium, the home of the Dallas Cowboys. Once upon a time, this game would have been played on New Years Day alongside all the other big bowl games. Now it’s the first one to be followed by five others, including the College Football Playoff semifinals.
The Buckeyes, of course, would rather be traveling to New Orleans or Pasadena for one of those games. The playoffs cast the other bowl games as meaningless. But Sawyer literally called BS at that notion.
“This game means a lot to us and to the fans,” he said with conviction. “It’s an opportunity to go out there and play and put our best foot forward and show the world who we really are after a tough loss to a good team. All of us who are playing are super excited to be playing. It’s gonna be a fun trip. It’s gonna be a lot of excitement to get to play a good SEC team in Missouri. It’s a big game and it matters.”
If Sawyer’s words do indeed speak for the team, expect the Buckeyes to show up with a Texas-sized chip on their shoulder.
Whatever this game means or doesn’t mean to college football universe, it will have something to say about what next year’s lineup will look like. The quarterback audition begins for presumptive Cotton Bowl starter Devin Brown and freshman Lincoln Kienholz.
Brown’s confident manner and words were on display Tuesday. He lost the job – by all accounts narrowly – in August to Kyle McCord. He knows with McCord’s leap of faith into the transfer portal that this is his time to prove to Ryan Day he doesn’t need to sign a transfer.
Determining where Day’s mind is on transfers is only speculative. Maybe he’s waiting to see how Brown plays in a couple weeks, maybe he’s not. Whatever the case, Brown says he is completely healed from a midseason ankle injury and ready to make his first start.
“I wish the best of luck for Kyle,” Brown said. “That’s one of my closest friends, and I hope he goes on and does big things. But then again, I’m excited to go play and finally show what I can do and have fun with this team.
“All year I’ve always prepared like I was the starter. There’s nothing to look over my shoulder for – just to go out and have fun and play my game.”
The other offensive players who spoke Tuesday said good things about McCord, but they didn’t hesitate to praise Brown.
Egbuka, a wide receiver with first-round draft potential: “He’s a great passer, he’s a great improviser, great field general. He’s someone who provides the offense with a lot of energy, which is huge at that position. He has a cannon, too.”
Jackson, an all-Big Ten guard will be playing in his home state: “I just expect to see what he’s been doing, just executing plays. He’s a very talented player. The couple practices we’ve had he’s shown that he has the qualities to be a good leader.”
Xavier Johnson, senior receiver/running back playing in his final game: “Devin did a great job of leading with opportunities given to him throughout the season. He’s just being himself out there. I think that’s important. The next step in the maturation process for every quarterback who’s taking over the reins is them being themselves in that role.”
Brown being himself will mean more running than McCord. Brown has shown that ability and was used in red-zone situations for that very reason until he injured his ankle. Day likes the X factor of a running QB, but he’s leery of allowing too much running because of injury fears. But Brown, if permitted, would break that tendency.
“Having that pocket movement and being able to be a factor in the run game definitely makes it harder on the defense,” Brown said. “I think we’ll do a couple things with it.”
A meaningless game?
Not for Devin Brown. And not for a team trying to prove – at least to itself – that it is better than the Ann Arbor version.