Those who watch the 82nd annual Cotton Bowl Classic on Dec. 29 might be seeing the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Under center for the eighth-ranked USC Trojans is Sam Darnold, a draft-eligible redshirt sophomore. He’s big (6-foot-4, 225 pounds) and has the intangibles coaches love. They help atone for an average arm, according to many scouting reports.
He has also lost only three times as a starter at Southern Cal, but figures to head to an NFL team that lost way more than three times this season.
Of course, Darnold doesn’t have to enter the draft, nor has he announced his intentions. Let him try to outfox the Ohio State Buckeyes first.
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“I’m just focused on the game right now. Really want to win this game for the Trojan family,” Darnold said. “And it’s a great Ohio State team. And I can’t be thinking about other things when I’m trying to prepare for a defense like Ohio State.”
USC arrived Saturday for its bowl-week preparations.
USC has only five players from Texas on its roster, but one of them is the team’s leading rusher and one of the best backs in the country. It’s Ronald Jones II, a junior from McKinney North High School, and he is backed up by Aca’Cedric Ware, a junior from Cedar Hill.
Clancy Pendergast is the Trojans’ defensive coordinator. Like many coaches, he has been at many stops for short periods of time. His longest stint, though, was with the Dallas Cowboys from 1996-2002. Barry Switzer hired him as a quality control assistant, and he stayed through Chan Gailey and Dave Campo. Under Pendergast, USC’s defense led the Pac-12 in sacks per game (3.31) and red-zone defense.
Like Ohio State, a USC player has won the Heisman Trophy a record seven times (also Notre Dame). The second to do so was O.J. Simpson in 1968, a year after he finished second. The last to do so was Reggie Bush, though he voluntarily surrendered the award amid a threat that he would be stripped of it for NCAA recruiting violations.
Jones is making a case to join the distinguished group of famed USC running backs. He ranks sixth in school history in rushing yards, trailing three Heisman winners and two Heisman runners-up. Charles White (first), Marcus Allen (second) and Simpson (fifth) are Heisman backs ahead of Jones, though he will pass Simpson with nine yards Friday. Allen and Simpson are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Road to Jerry World
The champions of the Pac-12 Conference lost twice in the regular season, by three at Washington State and by 35 at Notre Dame. But the Trojans won their final five games, including a 31-28 win over Stanford in the Pac-12 title game. Included in their 4-0 start to the season was a 27-24 victory over Texas in double-overtime.