Although the iconic Cotton Bowl stadium in downtown Dallas is alive, well and only slightly worse for wear after 87 years, Friday’s Cotton Bowl game between No. 8 USC and No. 5 Ohio State will be played in AT&T Stadium, the palatial suburban home of the Dallas Cowboys.
Which raises a few uncomfortable issues for the Trojans.
AT&T Stadium has an artificial playing surface, and both of USC’s losses have come on similar fields. The Trojans are 10-0 on grass.
The stadium is both massive and domed, meaning it can hold a lot of people who will make a lot of noise — all of which will be trapped under its retractable roof.
What’s worse, are the bad memories USC players have from what happened last time they played at AT&T. In their opener last season, the Trojans were crushed by Alabama, 52-6, USC’s most-lopsided loss in 50 years.
“We all remember that game and we all know exactly how it felt,” linebacker Cameron Smith said. “Probably the worst loss a lot of us have taken.”
Friday’s return, Smith believes, offers a chance at redemption.
“It means something for us to be back here,” he said. “It’s significant to how far we’ve come. We’re in the Cotton Bowl. Everyone knows how much that means to college football.
“Being back here at AT&T is going to be awesome for us. I think it’s going to mean a lot to each player.”
Smith said the Trojans were overwhelmed by the stadium when they played at AT&T last year. So they began this visit by attending the Cowboys’ game Sunday. They have also practiced on the field twice.
“That was really important for some of the young guys, just to see what it’s like,” Smith said. “It’s an intimidating stadium. We let that [get] into us too much.
“It’s just a stadium. We’re just going out there to play football.”
What did you say?
USC can’t do much about the field surface but it has tried to prepare for the game-day noise by blasting crowd sounds from massive speakers during practice.
“Communication is a big deal in this game,” linebacker Uchenna Nwosu said. “With the amount of noise, communication has to be on point.”
It was not in the Alabama game, he said.
“Oh my goodness! That was the loudest game, by far, I ever played in,” he said.
Ohio State also pumped crowd noise in its practice Tuesday, albeit with a twist: “Fight On!,” the song the USC band plays incessantly during games, was included in the soundtrack.
If USC has mostly bad memories of the Dallas area, Ohio State has nothing but happy thoughts about the city and AT&T Stadium. In 2015, the Buckeyes won the first College Football Playoff national championship there, defeating Oregon.
In addition, the Buckeyes’ roster includes more than a half-dozen players from Texas, among them quarterback J.T. Barrett, from Wichita Falls, and running back J.K. Dobbins, from La Grange.
“It's cool, my family being able to come see me play,” Barrett said. “I went to their house today.”
The drive to Dobbins’ family home is bit farther since La Grange is more than 200 miles south of Dallas. But the homecoming is special nonetheless since Ohio State’s first offensive play will be the first for Dobbins in Texas since he suffered a broken right leg on the opening play of his senior season in high school.
He rebounded this fall, rushing for an Ohio State freshman-record 1,364 yards and seven touchdowns.
“We all go through adversity in our lives,” teammate Terry McLaurin said. “And for him to use that to almost motivate him to do better — for an 18-year-old kid to do that — I don’t know if I’d be able to do that. Especially with all this coming at him so fast at a place like Ohio State.