Last Call: Biggest Questions, Players to Watch and Best Bets for Ohio State’s Cotton Bowl Season Finale vs. Missouri

By Dan Hope, Chase Brown, Andy Anders and Garrick Hodge on December 29, 2023 at 11:35 am
Carnell Tate and Jordan Hancock

Ohio State’s 2023 football season is in its final hours.

By the end of the night, Ohio State will either finish the season with a 12-1 record and a Cotton Bowl trophy to take home to Columbus, or an 11-2 record after back-to-back losses to end the season for the second year in a row.

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Tonight’s matchup with No. 9 Missouri serves as both an opportunity for the Buckeyes to bounce back from their loss to Michigan and finish the season on a high note and as a potential glimpse into the Buckeyes’ future, as the likes of Devin Brown and Carnell Tate are in line to play major roles for the first time in their Ohio State careers as the Buckeyes look to use the Cotton Bowl as a springboard of momentum into 2024.

What are the biggest questions surrounding the Buckeyes entering their season finale, who are the top players to watch in tonight’s game and which bets would we be most inclined to make? We dive into all of that in our final Last Call of the 2023 season.


How will Ohio State’s quarterback play be?

There’s been a lot of confidence expressed in Devin Brown this week, but the fact remains that there’s a lot of pressure riding on him in this start – even if he says he doesn’t feel the nerves. This is a New Year’s Six bowl that Ohio State desperately wants to win, but it’s also an audition for Brown as he tries to get a leg up in the Buckeyes’ looming quarterback competition.

Some hiccups off the bat are to be expected, even if it’s just from a lack of live-game reps with the offense. But he’s going to need to make a few big throws for Ohio State to win on Friday.

- Andy Anders

How will Ohio State’s TreVeyon Henderson-Dallan Hayden combination look?

While TreVeyon Henderson remains undecided on whether he will enter the 2024 NFL draft or return to Ohio State for a senior season, I can’t help but wonder if the Cotton Bowl will provide a preview of Ohio State’s backfield next fall. Henderson and Dallan Hayden will operate next to Devin Brown (and potentially Lincoln Kienholz) against Missouri, and the duo could flourish. Even when Chip Trayanum, Miyan Williams and Evan Pryor were still on the roster, many believed Henderson and Hayden were the Buckeyes’ best ballcarriers. The duo can prove that with a standout performance inside AT&T Stadium on Friday.

– Chase Brown

Can Ohio State’s defense make a statement?

Nobody has held Missouri under 21 points all season. If Ohio State can limit Mizzou to 20 points or fewer, the Buckeyes can validate their status as one of college football’s elite defenses this year.

I think the Tigers will score a bit more than that, but not by much, as I believe Ohio State’s defense is better than it looked against Michigan and hungry to make a statement in its final game of the year. Luther Burden and Cody Schrader will make their share of plays, but I expect the Buckeyes to prevent them from taking the game over.

– Dan Hope

Can Ohio State slow down Luther Burden?

It feels weird to say, but assuming Marvin Harrison Jr. doesn't play, Ohio State may not have the best wide receiver on the field on Friday. Luther Burden can present all kinds of matchup problems for the Buckeyes, so it will be up to a combination of Denzel Burke and Jordan Hancock to make sure he doesn't torch OSU's defense for long gains.

- Garrick Hodge

Players to Watch

Devin Brown

A softball of a selection, Devin Brown is the clear-cut player to watch for the Buckeyes. The Gilbert, Arizona, native will make his first collegiate start in the Cotton Bowl, and he will do so with a star-studded cast surrounding him, including TreVeyon Henderson, Cade Stover, Emeka Egbuka, Xavier Johnson and Carnell Tate, among others. Ryan Day and Co. have been impressed with Brown in Cotton Bowl practices, and he has an excellent opportunity to become the frontrunner in the 2024 quarterback competition if he can put together a solid performance against No. 9-ranked Missouri in the Cotton Bowl.

– Chase Brown

Jordan Hancock

There might not be any Buckeye with a more important role to play in this game than Hancock, who will be the primary defender tasked with covering Burden, one of the best slot receivers in all of college football, as Ohio State’s slot cornerback.

Hancock has been excellent in that role since becoming Ohio State’s starting nickel, but this will be his biggest test yet. He can either improve his stock for the 2024 NFL draft or establish himself as one of OSU’s top defenders entering 2024 — depending on whether he chooses to stay for his senior year — by keeping Burden in check tonight.

– Dan Hope

Josh Proctor

Proctor’s six-year journey with Ohio State is an immaculate one. He’s overcome a lot of hurdles to be a dynamic free safety in 2023 with the team. As he looks to not only end his career on a high note but also improve his NFL draft stock, look for a big performance from the Oklahoma native who will have a reported 22 family members and friends at the game.

- Andy Anders

Carnell Tate

Throughout the week, Ohio State players could not stop raving about the potential of Tate, who could have his coming-out party against the Tigers. There will be plenty of opportunities for the talented freshman to make a statement on Friday, and it wouldn't be surprising to see him catch a touchdown pass.

- Garrick Hodge

Best Bets

Carnell Tate anytime touchdown (+310, FanDuel)

I’m not expecting Tate to catch three touchdown passes like Marvin Harrison Jr. did in the Rose Bowl two years ago, but in a game that Harrison is not expected to play in and many are expecting Tate to have a breakout night in his place, I like the odds of Tate scoring once with a better than three-to-one return. 

– Dan Hope

Ohio State to win the second half (-185, DraftKings)

While -185 isn’t fantastic value on this line, I have a lot of confidence that the Buckeyes will outscore Missouri in the second half after the defense adjusts and Devin Brown settles in.

- Andy Anders

Devin Brown over 1.5 passing touchdowns (+106, FanDuel)

Maybe it's bold to assume a quarterback making his first career start will throw for multiple touchdowns, but I'm bullish on Brown to deliver multiple scores against a Missouri defense that is average at stopping the pass and will be down one of its top cornerbacks.

- Garrick Hodge

Cade Stover over 45.5 yards (-114, FanDuel)

While Kyle McCord started as a freshman and led Ohio State to a win over Akron in 2021, McCord’s first real collegiate start came in the Buckeyes’ season opener with Indiana in 2023. In that contest, he connected with Cade Stover five times for 98 yards. With Devin Brown making his first collegiate start in the Cotton Bowl, I expect him to use Stover as a safety blanket in the same way McCord did nearly four months ago. Stover ending the game with three or four catches for 50 yards sounds good to me.

– Chase Brown

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