No. 10 Utah Utes make Rose Bowl debut vs No. 7 Buckeyes

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — Rose Bowl: No. 7 Ohio State (10-2) vs. No. 10 Utah (10-3), Jan. 1, 5 p.m. Eastern (ESPN)

Line: Ohio State by 4 1/2, according to FanDuel SportsBook.

Series record: Ohio State leads 1-0.

WHAT’S AT STAKE

With the Utes making their first appearance and the Buckeyes back for the 16th time, “The Granddaddy of Them All” returns home after last year’s College Football Playoff semifinal was relocated to Arlington, Texas, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Trying to reach 11 wins for the ninth time in 10 years, Ohio State will have to shake off the disappointment of a rivalry loss to Michigan that prevented the Buckeyes from playing for the Big Ten title and a spot in the final four. Motivation is not in question for Utah, which expects to have 60,000 fans in attendance on New Year’s Day and has been driven by the memory of deceased teammates Aaron Lowe and Ty Jordan.

KEY MATCHUP

Utah RB Tavion Thomas vs. Ohio State’s defensive line. After failing to contain the Wolverines’ punishing ground game, the Buckeyes will be tested again by Thomas. After rushing for 1,041 yards and 20 touchdowns, the Dayton, Ohio, native wants one more big performance to show Ohio State “what they missed out on.” Defensive tackle Haskell Garrett opted out of the bowl, so talented freshman Tyleik Williams will have to be stout controlling the line of scrimmage in the fifth-year senior’s absence.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Ohio State: WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba was the breakout star of a loaded passing game, making 80 receptions for 1,259 yards and six touchdowns. With Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson opting out, Smith-Njigba must handle the burden as QB C.J. Stroud’s only proven option left on the outside.

Utah: QB Cam Rising saved the season after replacing Charlie Brewer in a triple-overtime loss to San Diego State. The redshirt sophomore’s steady play and familiarity with coordinator Andy Ludwig’s system allowed the Utes to play to their strengths after the change. Rising threw for 2,097 yards and 14 touchdowns against five interceptions in 10 starts, adding 360 yards rushing and six touchdowns.

FACTS & FIGURES

Ohio State left tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere, who started all 12 games as a redshirt junior, also opted out of the game. … Utah coach Kyle Whittingham is 11-3 in bowl games. However, the Utes have lost their past two postseason appearances. … The Buckeyes have not lost consecutive games since the 2013 Big Ten championship and 2014 Orange Bowl. They are 11-0 following a loss since the end of the 2013 season. … Utes LB Devin Lloyd filled up the stat sheet to be named the Pac-12 Pat Tillman defensive player of the year. He has 106 tackles, 22 tackles for loss, eight sacks, four interceptions and one fumble recovery as a fifth-year junior. … Ohio State’s 29 punts are fewest in the FBS. … Utah WR Britain Covey is averaging 14.7 yards per punt return with two touchdowns.

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