DraftKings currently has Ohio State as a -4 point favorite*, despite a multitude of opt-outs coming from the Buckeyes, while the Utes have managed to keep their entire team together for this historic opportunity. Perhaps the biggest reason for this lies within Ohio State’s Heisman finalist quarterback.
C.J. Stroud (freshman, 6’3”, 215 lbs) was far and away one of, if not the best quarterback in the country this season. In fact, his 89.9 QBR was indeed the best in the nation. The young gunslinger boasts an insane stat line that includes a 70.9% completion rating on 395 attempts, 38 touchdowns, and just five interceptions in his debut season, however, the uber-talented freshman will be without some of his top targets on Saturday after junior Garrett Wilson and senior Chris Olave announced they would be skipping the Rose Bowl upon declaring for the NFL draft. Together, Wilson and Olave combined for 45.5% of all receiving yards in 2021 and 62.5% of all receiving touchdowns. Even with an incredibly deep wide receiver pool, littered with top-rated four and five-star athletes, finding bodies to replace that level of production will be no easy task. Thankfully for Stroud, sophomore wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba (6’0”, 197 lbs) is still available after leading the Buckeyes in receiving yards this season, notching 1,259 yards on just 80 receptions. Smith-Njigba is one of the most dynamic pass-catchers in the nation, finding ways to juke around defenders while showcasing his speed to chew up big yards. Considering how thin Utah’s secondary is due to injuries, Smith Njigba is poised to have a massive game.
On the ground, Utah’s defense will need to do their best to contain freshman runningback TreVeyon Henderson (5’10”, 210 lbs), who gashed Big 10 defenders all season long on his way to 1,165 yards and 15 rushing touchdowns without a single fumble. Henderson is also an effective slot receiver and may see more time in that role come Saturday, not only because of the high-profile opt-outs, but as a way to avoid Utah’s effective rush defense that has held opposing teams to an average 120.1 rushing yards per game.
As the nation’s top overall offense, the Buckeyes can and will find ways to move the ball, even without Wilson and Olave. Utah’s suspect secondary will undoubtedly be tested against Stroud’s dynamic playmaking abilities. As good as Utah’s defense is, they simply haven’t faced a game manager as poised, composed, and effective as Stroud, and whether or not they are up for the task will be seen Saturday afternoon in Pasadena.
*Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.