No surprise Ohio State and USC have terrific running backs

COLUMBUS, OH - SEPTEMBER 09: J.K. Dobbins
COLUMBUS, OH - SEPTEMBER 09: J.K. Dobbins /
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Ohio State and USC always have outstanding running backs when they meet in a bowl game.

It shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone that Ohio State (J.K. Dobbins) and USC (Ronald Jones II) will have terrific running backs carrying the football in the Cotton Bowl. That has been the case every time they have met since I watched my first Rose Bowl January 1. 1969

That day, Ohio State’s star fullback Jim Otis (Yes, Woody let the fullback run the ball) went up against Heisman Trophy winner O.J. Simpson. The Buckeyes won the game and the National Title but Simpson rushed for 171 yards. Each back scored a touchdown.

In the 1970s it was more of the same.

From 1973-75 Ohio and USC met each New Year’s day. Of course the Buckeyes had Archie Griffin but the Trojans had Anthony Davis who rushed for 3,724 yards during those three years.

In the 1973 Rose Bowl, USC’s leading rusher wasn’t even the best Trojan back that day. That honor went to Sam “The Bam”  Cunningham, who seemingly came from nowhere to score four touchdowns and lead USC to the win.

The following year it was Ohio State’s Pete Johnson who stole the show. The big fullback scored three times leading the Buckeyes to a 42-21 victory, the last time Ohio State would defeat USC.

Fast forward to January 1. 1980 and Ohio State’s rushing attack featured three very good backs. Calvin Murray, who would rush for 1,000 yards the following season, Jim Gayle who rushed for over 1,900 yards in his career and Tim Spencer who would gain over 3,500. But that New Year’s Day they would be upstaged by a USC running back.

Anybody who watched the game remembers that Charles White literally carried the Trojans to the 17-16 victory, rushing for 247 yards and the game winning touchdown. And in the process spoiled a perfect season for the Buckeyes and cost them the National Title.

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In the 1985 Rose Bowl Ohio State was led by Keith Byars who rushed for 1,764 yards that season and was runner-up for the Heisman Trophy. But running back Fred Crutcher (1,155 yards) and his USC teammates won the game 20-17.

No other football program has a better history of turning out great running backs than Ohio State and USC, however you want to rank the two schools. Now at least a couple of more terrific backs will take the field in the Cotton Bowl.

Ronald Jones II has rushed for 1,486 yards this season and is moving up the list of all-time great USC backs with 3,555 yards so far in his career. J.K. Dobbins broke the Ohio State freshman rushing record with 1,364 yards and is averaging 7.5 yards per carry. Will one of these two backs carry the day or will it be another. 

Possibly last year’s 1,000 yard back Mike Weber will have his day in the sun. Or maybe a USC running back will come in under the radar and shine?

Next: Cotton Bowl caps Barrett era

Sam Cunningham and Pete Johnson proved that could be the case over four decades ago. With the talent that Ohio State and USC always have at the running back position you just never know what to expect.