Ohio State players woke up on Selection Sunday thinking they were going to be in the College Football Playoff.
Hours earlier, they had beaten Wisconsin 27-20 in the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis. That was enough, they believed, to land the final spot in the four-team field.
So when the news hit just past noon that they were out, there was a feeling of surprise, to put it mildly.
"For anyone that put in the type of work that we do throughout the whole year and not get that call, you definitely are devastated," Ohio State linebacker Chris Worley said. "But at the same time, we still are so fortunate to be playing for so much. So you can't change it. So the only thing to do is move forward."
Quarterback J.T. Barrett led the Buckeyes to victory six days after undergoing knee surgery. The quick recovery time was remarkable.
"So it was funny, when they said like gotta have surgery to clean it up in there and the recovery time is normally three to four weeks, I was like we don't really have that kind of time," Barrett said.
"They hooked me up so I was able to watch film and ice my knee, get treatment, things like that. So it was just a constant thing throughout last week and just trying to get myself prepared. But, yeah, normally you get your knee scoped and it's three-, four-week-type deal."
The Big Ten offensive player of the year threw two long touchdown passes and ran for a score in an inspiring performance against Wisconsin that gave Ohio State a conference title but not a playoff berth.
"Do I feel like the Ohio State Buckeyes is a top-four team in the country? I do," Barrett said. "And I am hurt by us not getting in. I guess it's to a point like it's one of those things that's kind of out of your control type of thing.
"And it's going to sting for a minute. But at the end of the day, you do what you're supposed to do. ... It was up to the committee to make the decision."
Barrett, who set a school record for quarterbacks with his 37th career win, is looking forward to No. 5 Ohio State going to his home state of Texas to face No. 8 USC on Dec. 30 at AT&T Stadium.
"The last time playing a football game in Texas was in high school," said Barrett, who was injured as a freshman at the end of the 2014 season when Ohio State won the national championship in the same stadium. "So I think it will be good to be in the atmosphere and going against a team like USC, it will be good."
The quarterback matchup should be engaging between Barrett and USC's Sam Darnold, who is No. 7 in the nation in passing with 3,787 yards and 26 touchdowns. Barrett has passed for 2,939 yards and 35 touchdowns.
"He's a rare guy, rare breed," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said of Barrett. "And so he doesn't need to prove anything else. We need to go find a way to win this bowl game."
Ohio State's other offensive star against in the Big Ten game was freshman running back J.K. Dobbins, who ran for 174 yards on 17 carries to boost his season total 1,364 yards. USC running back Ronald Jones is just as prolific as Dobbins, rushing for 1,486 yards.
The Buckeyes' defense will be charged with stopping the Trojans' multi-faceted offense led by Darnold and Jones. Ohio State was able to limit Wisconsin's run-oriented attack to 298 total yards.
Ohio State is the only team in FBS that ranks in the top 10 nationally in total defense and offense. USC is No. 15 in total offense at 489.5 yards per game.
"Everyone knows about Ohio State-USC," Worley said. "And it's crazy, but at the same time it's going to be a team out there that's looking to show the world why they deserve to be in (the playoff) as well."