DALLAS — Before the season began, Ohio State’s defensive line was touted as one of the best, if not the best front fours in college football.
So how has that worked out for the No. 5 Buckeyes going into Friday night’s match-up against No. 8 USC in the Cotton Bowl.
Pretty well, OSU’s defensive linemen and defensive coordinator Greg Schiano said on Wednesday.
Asked if the Buckeyes’ defensive front has lived up to expectations this season, Schiano said, “I think they have.”
Schiano added some major fuel to the best defensive line talk in August when he said, as a group, OSU’s defensive linemen were the best he had ever coached, including his two seasons as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“It’s a very serious statement that I made. I made that statement because I believed it. The statement maybe gets taken out of context. What I was talking about was as a group it is the best I’ve ever been around because of the amount of depth,” he said.
“Do we have some elite, elite performers? Yeah, but what I look at is the incredible depth.”
Defensive ends Nick Bosa and Tyquan Lewis were first-team All-Big Ten and Bosa was a first-team All-American. Defensive end Sam Hubbard was second-team All-Big Ten and defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones was third team All-Big Ten. Defensive end Jalyn Holmes was honorable mention All-Big Ten.
Statistically, Ohio State did not rank high in categories often used to judge defensive lines. Its 37 sacks were fourth in the Big Ten and tied for fifteenth nationally and it was thirteenth in tackles for losses per game.
Schiano said those numbers are at least partially a product of Ohio State’s talent level up front defensively.
“When you play against us people get rid of the ball pretty quickly because they know people are going to be bearing down on them,” he said.
Holmes said, “I felt we lived up to the expectations. Were we perfect? No. But I definitely felt we left our mark on college football this year.”
Hubbard said, “We consider ourselves one of the leading units on the team and we want to put that on the field. I think we’ve played very well. It’s gone very smoothly. It’s gone really incredibly and we want to finish it off strong.”
Bosa said playing against an offense as good as USC’s gives Ohio State’s defensive line a little extra incentive.
“You always want to hit a high drafted quarterback,” he said about the Trojans’ Sam Darnold, viewed by some people as a possible No. 1 overall NFL draft choice if he chooses to enter the draft. “They have a really good offense – the quarterback, running back and skill players.”
—-SCHIANO AVOIDS TENNESSEE TALK: Schiano said Wednesday that now is not the time to talk about Tennessee offering him its head football coach position and then withdrawing the offer after a storm of criticism from Vols fans in late November.
“This game is so big for our program and our kids and our coaching staff and university that I still think it’s inappropriate now (to talk about it). There will be a time and I really think there will be a time when it will be appropriate for me to speak about all that,” he said.
USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin, a former Tennessee quarterback, said Wednesday he was disappointed he didn’t get an interview for the Vols job but thought Schiano would have done a good job in Knoxville.
—-DIFFERENT REASONS TO WATCH: OSU freshman running back J.K. Dobbins said on Tuesday that he would be rooting against Alabama in its College Football Playoff semifinal against Alabama because the Crimson Tide beat out the Buckeyes for the final spot in the College Football Playoff rankings.
Dobbins said, “I’m going for Clemson. I just don’t think ‘Bama deserves to be there.”
On Wednesday, Holmes said he had no rooting interest in that game. “I’ll probably watch just because it will probably be a good game,” he said. “I’ve got a good friend who plays for Georgia. I’m going to have a little bias for Georgia,” he said.
—- NEW SPORT FOR BOSA: Nick Bosa says he has started playing golf for the first time, a game he said he struggles with, as does his older brother Joey, whose reactions to bad shots is every bit as intense as you would expect.
“I’ve been golfing every Monday on my off day until it started to get too cold. I’m pretty bad but it’s fun,” the younger Bosa said.
“It’s definitely frustrating but I don’t get as frustrated as my brother. He goes out and he just loses his mind. He broke a club the other day. It’s not even fun for him. He’s not going to be satisfied with how he plays.”
MORE BOSA: Informed Darnold said he would be all right with being drafted by the Cleveland Browns if that happened, Bosa said, “He did? That’s his decision.”
LEWIS NOT SURPRISED: Tyquan Lewis said he was not surprised that all of his teammates elected to play in the Cotton Bowl instead of sitting out to protect their NFL draft chances.
“I’m not surprised all all. Everyone loves one another. It’s not shocking to see that. Somebody is going to say something like, ‘What’s your excuse for not playing?’
“It’s the game of football. Anything can happen. You take your chances. It doesn’t really bother me. If you sit out, I bet down the line you’re going to wish you could play one last time with your teammates,” he said.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.