USC won the Pac-12. Ohio State won the Big Ten. It was not enough for the College Football Playoff selection committee, which left both teams out of the playoff. The Trojans and Buckeyes will, at least, combine to make the most compelling non-playoff bowl of the season in the Cotton Bowl.
In the moments before the Pac-12 championship game began on Friday, USC safety Chris Hawkins journeyed toward the end zone alone, kneeled and put his head down. Hawkins had hardly slept the night before. At around midnight, he received word that his grandmother had died of breast cancer.