With three Heisman Trophy contenders, Ohio State has no plans to stop and smell the roses again in 2022 – CBS Sports

With three Heisman Trophy contenders, Ohio State has no plans to stop and smell the roses again in 2022 - CBS Sports

It is the smell that reached CJ Stroud. Well, that among other things in the multi-sensory assault that was his first Rose Bowl.

Say all you want about the Rose and its many distinctions — a sunset over the Gabriel Mountains, a parade that almost replaces the game itself, Keith Jackson’s voice floating in some ethereal cloud over it all — there’s always that moment for newcomers

For that of Ohio State junior quarterback, it was, well, everything.

“I’d say roses, that’s what it’s all about,” Stroud said. “It’s unique. It smells good. It looks good. It feels good. Best weed I’ve ever played in my life. It’s just everything about it is what I expected it to be. This is why the Rose- A bowl is special.”

That of a kid who grew up within an hour of Pasadena, California. It’s one thing to watch ‘Em All’s Grandaddy on TV; it’s another to experience the uniqueness of the game.

Besides the sights, colors and smells, for the No. 2 Buckeyes, it’s where the 2021 season ended and the 2022 season began.

Anyone who witnessed that game on Jan. 1 might still have their head spinning from Ohio State’s 48-45 win. Utah. Stroud threw for a school-record 573 yards and a school-record-tying six touchdowns. Wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba announced himself with 15 catches for an FBS bowl-record 347 yards receiving and three touchdowns.

“It was a combination of great minds and great players,” Stroud said. “… That was the most fun I had [had playing] in my life.”

“Maybe a few spots, 11-2 and a Rose Bowl win is a good year. It’s not at Ohio State,” coach Ryan Day said.

The result revealed both to be true. Combined, the lingering Rose Bowl smell, feel and look was a telling point for what ultimately was a substandard season at Ohio State. However, it also served as a jumping off point for Stroud and Smith-Njigba.

“That was the goal going into it,” Day said of that springboard for his star offensive players. “We talked about it going in.”

Now, the two biggest Buckeye weapons are the 2022 Rat Pack, inseparable friends who play off each other. Stroud is the Heisman Trophy favorite at 2-1 odds entering the season, according to Caesars Sportsbook. Just outside the top 10 on that list is Smith-Njigba; arguably the game’s best receiver sits at 40-1. Among them is another budding superstar as OSU running back TreVeyon Henderson enters the year at 20-1.

“I don’t want to think about it, but I do,” said Stroud, who finished fourth in Heisman voting as a 2021 finalist. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t.”

Stroud threw for the second most yards (4,435) and touchdowns (44) in school history. Henderson averaged 6.8 yards per carry, amassing nearly 1,600 combined yards and 19 touchdowns with some exceptional single-game performances.

Playing in the shadows of Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, Smith-Njigba set school records for catches (95) and yards receiving (1,606). Wilson and Olave simply combined for 25 touchdown catches on their way to the NFL. In the Rose Bowl, Smith-Njigba had what could have been good month for another player.

“I think I’m the best, so I have to work like that,” he said.

Buckeyes everywhere can afford to dream because this is Ohio State’s best team since 2019. That doesn’t sound like much, but at Ohio State, it’s remarkable. That team three years ago was good enough to win it all but got derailed Clemson in a College Football Playoff semifinal.

It took this long for Buckeye Nation to feel so good about itself again. The 2020 COVID-19-affected team played just eight games and was blown out alabama, 52–24 in the Orange Bowl semifinal. Last season, the Oregon loss was Ohio State’s first to a Power Five non-conference opponent at home since Oklahoma in 2017.

The latest non-conference challenge awaits. No. 5 Our Lady comes to The Shoe as a 14.5-point underdog in Week 1’s tastiest game.

The loss at Michigan last November was another first — Day’s first loss in the Big Ten in his 24th conference game. That Ohio State team led the nation in total offense. The problem was easy to identify: The defense — especially the run defense — was flexible. The 3.68 yards per rush allowed by the defense was Ohio State’s second-highest average in a decade. In that Rose Bowl, Utah tied a program bowl game record with 45 points scored.

Most disturbing was Ohio State being boat-raced out of Michigan Stadium in the second half to drop the Big Ten East crown. In fact, the most disturbing was the defense giving up at least 40 points in back-to-back games for the first time since 1891.

Almost everything at Ohio State must be viewed through a relative lens. Stroud recently advocated for revenue sharing in this age of name, image and likeness. This from a rising junior who drives a Bentley around as part of his NIL deal.

While on vacation to St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, he expressed surprise at being recognized.

“It’s kind of cool, but it’s scary at the same time,” he said. “I’m not used to people looking at me.”

Never mind that there is a lot of staring going on. Stroud routinely plays in front of 100,000 people, after all. Ohio State is among the top 10 universities in the nation with more than 500,000 living alumni.

“I just want to accumulate days,” Stroud added. “If I think about the Heisman, I’m just going to overwhelm myself and put too much pressure on myself.”

If the defense doesn’t improve, Stroud, Smith-Njigba and Henderson might just have to carry the Buckeyes over everyone else. And that makes almost perfect sense in this day and age. After all, Alabama claimed the playoff in 2020 with the third worst overall defense ever to win a national championship (since at least 1936).

Smells like another title?

“We don’t have to prove anyone wrong,” Stroud concluded. “We have to prove ourselves right.”

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