ARLINGTON, Texas – Ohio State will be without its star cornerback in the Cotton Bowl.
Despite assertions from many of his teammates and Urban Meyer that they did not expect any Buckeyes to skip the bowl game against USC on Dec. 29, junior cornerback Denzel Ward has decided to sit out the Cotton Bowl and enter the 2018 NFL Draft.
According to an Ohio State release, it was a last-minute decision.
Ohio State junior cornerback Denzel Ward will not play in tonight’s game against USC and he will not return for his senior season with the Buckeyes in 2018. Ward wrestled with the decision to play (or not) throughout the bowl prep practices, leaving open his decision until game day. So he practiced, but he also helped the younger players in the program who were getting additional reps at cornerback this past month. The coaching staff was aware that Denzel’s decision to play or not play would not be made final until game day. He elected today to sit out.
Ward, who is widely projected to be a first-round pick, will presumably leave Ohio State with one remaining season of eligibility.
Go bucks! pic.twitter.com/DfBOKYQzhO
— Denzel Ward (@Flash_Ward12) December 30, 2017
Nearly every Ohio State player who has met with the media leading up to the Cotton Bowl has said that they did not expect any Buckeyes to skip next week's game.
"I don't see any guys on this team doing that. The love for the brother here and brotherhood, that's real," senior linebacker Chris Worley said Dec. 3. "We've got a bunch of guys that love playing football, love the game, just to be around the game. To just think about a guy sort of saying, I'm going to take a step from a game, if he's not legit hurt, then I really doubt that would happen here."
Meyer also said in his press conference the day before the big game that he expected to have his full compliment of players ready to go against USC. "Yeah, we anticipate we'll be full – ready to go play and everybody's playing," he said.
Ward, however, has decided to join a growing trend of top-flight NFL draft prospects choosing not to participate in non-playoff bowl games. Other draft prospects who have decided to skip bowl games this year include Oregon running back Royce Freeman, Florida State safety Derwin James and two Texas Longhorns, offensive tackle Connor Williams and safety DeShon Elliott.
Without Ward, Ohio State's starting cornerbacks for the Cotton Bowl project to be Damon Arnette and Kendall Sheffield, while true freshman Jeffrey Okudah should also see regular playing time in the Buckeyes' nickel defense. Fellow true freshmen Marcus Williamson and Amir Riep will be the next men up on the cornerback depth chart.