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SQ Rose Bowl Preview

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the Granddaddy of them all. Penn State and USC square off in the 2017 Rose Bowl.

It’s the Granddaddy of them all. The Rose Bowl game is the oldest bowl game still in existence, and the 2017 installment features two of college football’s most storied programs in USC 9-3 (7-2) and Penn State 11-2 (8-1). It’s the Pac-12 vs. the Big Ten in what is sure to be a classic. The Rose Bowl will be played in Pasadena on January 2nd at 5 p.m. EST and can be seen on ESPN.

Storylines Coming Into The Game

Playoff Snub?

Since the playoff’s inception, the selection committee has preached the importance of a conference championship. That has to leave Penn State feeling left out, as they won the Big Ten and also beat Ohio State head-to-head, yet Ohio State still got the nod ahead of them. But a blowout loss to Michigan and a close loss to Pitt justified the snub. 

Of course, Penn State’s omission just brings back the debate of expanding the playoff to eight teams, a topic that will almost assuredly be breached this upcoming offseason. 

Two Of The Hottest Teams In The Nation

Save for Alabama and Western Michigan, the two undefeated FBS teams, Penn State and USC might be the two hottest teams in the nation. USC has won eight straight games since their last loss to Utah, including a win over Washington. USC struggled early in the season, losing their first game 52-6 against Alabama, but have looked much better since switching to Sam Darnold, who has gone 8-1 as their starting quarterback.

Penn State has won nine straight games since their last loss against Michigan, including wins in the Big Ten Championship game and against a playoff-bound foe in Ohio State. The manner in which Penn State and USC have won is impressive in their own rights, with Penn State winning six of their last eight by double digits and USC winning seven of their last eight by double digits as well. 

Programs Rebuilt

Just a few seasons ago, both USC and Penn State were disgraced, receiving the two harshest penalties ever given out to division one programs. With the number of scholarships lost and years of postseason bans dished out, it is impressive that they returned to prominence so quickly. It hasn’t always been smooth for either program. USC has gone through four different coaches in the past five seasons, sometimes forced into finding a new coach. Penn State stumbled through three straight seven-win seasons in the wake of the sanctions before breaking through with 11 wins this season.

Key Stats

.92 - USC comes into the Rose Bowl sixth in the nation giving up only 0.92 sacks per game. Protecting Darnold will be especially important come Monday as the Nittany Lions average three sacks per game, 14th in the country. Although USC has been good on third down this season, they won’t want to find themselves in third and long situations where Penn State can send extra linebackers after Darnold. 

5 - Michigan has their well-publicized jack-of-all-trades man in Jabrill Peppers, but equally as impressive is the Trojans’ Adoree’ Jackson, who has scored five touchdowns this season. Of those five, two have come on punt returns, two have been kickoff returns, and he also has one 52-yard touchdown catch. Jackson also averages 9.8 yards per carry, and, oh yeah, his primary position is cornerback. With an extra month to prepare for this game, Head Coach Clay Helton will definitely have been working on different ways to get the ball into Jackson’s hands, since he has the ability to change the game every time he touches the ball.

140 - Penn State’s second leading rusher is quarterback Trace McSorely, who has 140 rushes on the season, leading to six touchdowns. Certainly one of the weaknesses of the USC defense has been dual-threat quarterbacks. In a small sample size, they gave up two touchdowns to Jalen Hurts, let Khalil Tate run for 72 yards and a touchdown, and also gave up rushing touchdowns to Troy Williams, Davis Webb, Dakota Prukop, and DeShone Kizer.

Key Players

Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State - Twice this season, the high-powered Penn State offense has failed to score more than 25 points. Those two games also happen to be the two games where Saquon Barkley failed to register a touchdown. As a freshman last year, it was clear that Barkley was a special talent, as he ran for over 1,000 yards and accounted for eight touchdowns.

But this season, he has taken the next step, becoming an integral part of the Penn State offense. He has over 1,300 yards on the ground and another 347 through the air to go along with 19 total touchdowns. The 2016 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, Barkley will need to get going against a USC defense ranked 29th in the nation, giving up 133.7 rushing yards per game.

Sam Darnold, QB, USC - No one player on the USC offense stands out, but Sam Darnold is quietly having a very solid freshman campaign. Darnold began 2016 as the backup to Max Browne, but after lackluster performances against Alabama and Stanford to begin the season, Darnold was given the keys to the offense. 

In his first game against Utah, Darnold threw for 253 yards and added another 41 on the ground. Even though the Trojans lost that game, Darnold showed more than enough for Clay Helton to give him another start. Darnold has blossomed over the course of the season proving to be a strong game manager for the Trojans. They will need him to play mistake-free football to have their best chance at beating the Nittany Lions. 

Why Penn State wins

Penn State’s season has been incredible, and you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who would’ve been disappointed with a Rose Bowl appearance at the beginning of the season. In 2015-16, Penn State went 7-6 before improving to 11-2 this season. Everyone figured the Big Ten would be a toss-up between Michigan and Ohio State, yet it was Penn State that snatched it away from everyone. 

Head Coach James Franklin is quickly solidifying his status as one of the better coaches in college football, and he will certainly have his team ready to go on Monday. 

This team can beat you in a number of different ways, be it the legs of Saquon Barkley, the arm of Trace McSorely, or the heart of the entire defense. Penn State has the athletes and talent to match up well against a fast, physical USC team, and have certainly faced more than their fair share of top teams to tune them up for this one.

Why USC wins

As incredible as Penn State’s turnaround has been, USC’s has been equally impressive. Looking like a fish out of water at the beginning of the season, starting off 1-3, they managed to right the ship just in time to earn their 34th Rose Bowl appearance. 

USC should feel right at home in the Coliseum, which is just a 25-minute drive from the USC campus. The more their veteran playmakers, such as Adoree’ Jackson, wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster, and running back Ronald Jones III, can do to help relieve the pressure from Darnold, the better he will be able to settle into the game. 

The Trojan defense has turned the pressure up a notch down the stretch, holding six of their last eight opponents to 20 points or fewer. In a very evenly matched contest, USC has the big time players to turn to for big time plays.

Prediction 

Both USC and Penn State have spent much of the season correcting their wrongs from early in the season, and the results have shown for both of them. This game could go any number of ways given that both teams are strong on both sides of the ball. I expect it to be close throughout, with one special teams or defensive play proving to be the deciding factor. 

USC 23-21 Penn State

Edited by Jeremy Losak, Jazmyn Brown.

SQuiz
Who was the USC football coach before Clay Helton?
Created 12/31/16
  1. Ed Orgeron
  2. Lane Kiffin
  3. Steve Sarkisian
  4. Pete Carroll

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