USC football is back in the Rose Bowl and back on track, but it’ll take a victory over Penn State for the Trojans to truly feel back.
How long has its been since USC’s last Rose Bowl appearance? That would be eight years. And funnily enough in 2017 they’re set against the same opponent, Penn State.
In that game Mark Sanchez had one of his best outings as a Trojan, in what would also be his last game at USC. He lit up the Nittany Lions with four touchdowns and 413 yards en route to a 38-24 victory.
This year’s contest will feature two of the hottest teams in college football, much like it did then. Penn State won their conference and also beat Ohio State earlier in the season. USC didn’t play in the Pac-12 Championship Game, but did have wins over both teams who did — Washington and Colorado.
If the College Football Playoffs had two more spots, then this year’s Rose Bowl could be in effect the third playoff game.
In fact, Sports Illustrated ranks this Rose Bowl match up as their No. 1 bowl game and Fox Sports has it in their top five too.
The stage is set for an exciting football game between two schools that have been red-hot of late and represent two iconic programs that have also been in the NCAA’s doghouse. That is a place you don’t want to be if you like playing college football around New Year’s Day.
But while both USC and Penn State have wins over teams in this year’s College Football Final Four, the 2017 Rose Bowl winner will not advance.
So once again, the Trojans’ task is just to win out. Notch a tenth victory on the season to set up next year for a College Football Playoff run.
This Rose Bowl contest will allow the two coaching staffs plenty of time to prepare and get key players healthy again. That should be very good news for the Trojans, who has been banged up over the course of their eight-game winning streak.
Offensive coordinator Tee Martin will have key weapons like Juju Smith-Schuster, Justin Davis and Deontay Burnett almost completely healthy for the showdown, while the likes of Porter Gustin and Stevie Tu’ikolovatu will be fresh after carrying knocks for much of the final month of the season.
What will the USC offensive game plan be? And if Game Plan A isn’t working then what?
MUST ROSE BOWL: Previewing the USC vs. Penn State Matchup
After watching Penn State go for it twice on fourth and short in the first half of their Big Ten Championship Game victory, you can forget a conservative game plan from Franklin.
Whatever the Trojans plans are, they had better be aggressive and unpredictable. Franklin will not play coy, wanting to make a statement at USC’s expense in his first Rose Bowl game.
Clancy Pendergast has been a wizard of late with USC’s defensive schemes. Another defensive performance like the one the Trojans had in Seattle is what it will take to really smell the roses on January 2.
Adding weight to the proceedings, this might be the last time two Trojan greats wear their cardinal and gold. Either Adoree’ Jackson or JuJu Smith-Schuster could be the difference in this game.
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Meanwhile a healthy offensive line controlling the line of scrimmage will determine whether Sam Darnold has time to work his magic. And whether Ronald Jones II and Davis can gash the Nittany Lions for long runs setting up the play action over the middle to tight end targets like Daniel Imatorbhebhe.
Look for All-American tackle Zack Banner to set the tone early and often with his devastating lead blocking, in what will definitely be his last game for the Trojans.
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With just one very big game left in this most memorable season, look for both teams to leave it all on the field. This USC team has come too far and heard too much static to be satisfied with just a Rose Bowl appearance.
If the Trojans finish the year with ten wins, a Rose Bowl victory and a Top 5 ranking, the College Football world will know USC football is back.